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Clearcutting in Shorewood

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Clear-cutting trees and foliage on the west bank of the Milwaukee River between Hubbard Park and Capitol Drive has alarmed residents of Riverwest and Shorewood, as well as the River Revitalization Foundation, Urban Ecology Center, Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and Shorewood’s Village Board. Jim Petr, owner of Milwaukee PC and approximately 1,200 feet of riverfront property where he’s clear-cutting, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he was “ridding his embankment of box elder, buckthorn and other ‘junk’ trees he fears could be hazardous to the bicyclists and hikers who cross his property as they follow a riverside trail.” Petr said he’s concerned about liability issues, but is also cutting the trees to provide a view of the river from his property. He’s thinking about building condos on the site, according to the article. Shorewood ordinance requires that clearing land with over a 12% slope needs an erosion control plan. Petr had cleared his first section bare down to the water without such a plan. When told to come up with one, he submitted a plan and immediately resumed cutting, this time on another slope just north of his first clearing. But according to Russ Falkowski, Shorewood Building Inspector, Petr’s plan did not meet all the requirements of Shorewood’s ordinance. So Falkowski issued a stop work order until Petr can submit a proper plan. Karin Long, a 30 year Riverwest resident living on the west bank of the river across from Petr’s land, is concerned about erosion and its effects on the river’s ecosystem. “This is a [migratory bird] flyway, and it should be a protected corridor,” Long said. She had notified state and local officials and local press when she first heard the buzz saw and saw Petr cutting trees off the river embankment. Long is not alone in her concerns about erosion and a disturbed ecosystem. Will Wawrzyn, a DNR biologist for the Milwaukee River basin, told the Journal Sentinel that clearing the slope, while affecting aesthetics and potentially causing a slide of sediment and nutrients into the river, could also affect the biology of the area. Wawrzyn said, “The area has high value as a primary environmental corridor. It was 95% wooded at one time, and the woody debris in the river provided a cover for fish.” He also pointed out that tree removal affects stability for a range of wildlife, from insects to fish, amphibians and forest animals. Long is concerned that Shorewood had nothing in place to prevent something like this from happening. She’d like the Village Board Trustees to attend the Milwaukee Cleaner River Conference on November 17, and then “change their ordinances so this can’t happen again.” Long noted that the DNR’s statewide regulation requiring tree replacement on clear-cut land along waterways does not apply in Milwaukee County. Shorewood resident Richard Birch explained why: to accommodate Milwaukee County municipalities’ individual development issues, the DNR has left river protection regulations up to each municipality. Birch asked the Village Trustees to look into the clear-cutting matter and to consider offering to purchase the property from Petr through a number of programs such as the Wisconsin Stewardship Fund. “If this man is truly concerned about liability, that will take care of it,” Birch said. “This would take it off his hands, and they will have the liability, not him. Plus he would get some cash.” Birch sees the situation as an opportunity to work toward a long-term solution along the river. “We can replant with native species, and it won’t be pretty for the next five years, but it will be pretty for the next 50 years,” Birch said. “Developing up to the full limit, however, would be a disaster. We have something here that we shouldn’t give up. That’s why people live in Shorewood. Trees can come back, but once you lay down concrete and sewer lines, it’s gone forever.” On Oct. 24, the River Revitalization Foundation gave an overview presentation of the Riverway Plan to Shorewood’s Village Board. The Plan addresses all three rivers in Milwaukee County, and was developed more than 10 years ago by the River Revitalization Council, a group appointed by Wisconsin’s previous governor. The goal of the Plan is to protect and improve access to the river corridor. Village Trustee Mike Maher hopes the River Revitalization Foundation will offer to help the Village come up with solutions. “They bring an expertise,” Maher said. “The DNR has also offered to help find solutions to protect the river way. As a Village, we want to protect our environmental corridor and look to the future. We’re going back to our Village Code. We’ll review what’s there and check with other municipalities’ [codes] to see if they make any sense for us.” Maher hopes to keep the process moving along, and he wants to maintain the public’s access to the trail all along the river. He said there was a lot of interest on the Board, and that they’ve assigned the project to the committee that handles environmental issues, which Maher heads. Do You Have Questions? Direct your questions or comments to Carl Templer, Exec. Director of the Shorewood Business Improvement District at 414-964-3484 or ; Village Trustee Michael Maher at ; Shorewood Village Board President Mark Kohlenberg at ; Village Board Manager Chris Shwartz at 414-847-2700 or Shorewood’s Village Board meetings are posted on the Village website, www.villageofshorewood.org, at the Village Hall, or at Shorewood Public Library. All meetings are open to the public.
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