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Sauk County – Communications Infrastructure Committee
Spring Green, Wisconsin
September 1, 2004
RE: Proposed Thuli Road Tower
By Mark Cupp Executive Director LWSRB
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the invitation to speak to the committee today. A number of questions were raised in the letter from Mr. Stieve and I’m afraid I don’t have answers to all of them but I hope to use the opportunity to provide you with some information. I am here to represent the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board. The board’s position on the Thuli Road tower site was presented to William Wenzel, Sauk County Board Chair, with copies distributed to county board members, county personnel and others.
It is clear to me that there is a lack of understanding regarding the Riverway in those parts of the county that are not nearby. I think it worthy of note that many people in the northern and western parts of the county don’t know a lot about the Riverway project and may not appreciate the importance of the Wisconsin River to the county’s east and south coasts.
For instance, unless you’re interested in history, you might not know that the Riverway has been home to Native Americans for thousands of years going back to the times when people hunted mastodons and then later built effigy mounds and thrived as a complex culture. You might not realize the importance the river played to historic tribes such as the Ho-Chunk, Sauk, Mesquakie and others. You might not know the significance of the river in relation to the Black Hawk War of 1832, the last major Indian war fought in Wisconsin, which led to the settlement of southwestern Wisconsin. You might not know that the river played a vital role in the early days of the missionaries and fur traders and that the development of communities such as Prairie du Sac, Sauk City, Cassell Prairie and Spring Green is closely tied to the river.
Unless you’re interested in geology, you might not know that the current course of the river was created 12-14,000 years ago when the natural dam holding back glacial Lake Wisconsin in the central part of the state burst unleashing a cataclysmic torrent of water through the gorge known as the lower Wisconsin River valley which was later filled in with countless millions of tons of sand and other debris.
Unless you’re interested in biology and botany, you might not be aware of the rich flora and fauna of the valley and the many rare plants and animals, as well as the many rare ecosystems, which survive and, in some cases, still flourish here.
Unless you are a river user, you may not realize the tremendous natural beauty of the valley and you may not wonder at the site of an eagle soaring overhead with white head and tail gleaming against the background of a deep blue sky; you may not marvel at the primordial call of the sandhill crane somewhere out in the fog on a cool summer morning; you may not be amused at the incessant cries of the river’s sentinel, the kingfisher, alerting everything that will listen that you are paddling downstream; you may not appreciate the peace of sitting on a sandbar hearing nothing but the susurrus of wind in the trees, the gurgling of water flowing through a snag or the sounds of a myriad of birds all around you. Unless you are a river user, you may not recognize the value of looking at the undeveloped landscape on the shores and in the hills knowing that you are seeing what those countless generations of Native Americans saw before, as did the missionaries, fur traders, and early settlers.
Unless you are a river user, you may fail to understand the magnitude of Rueben Gold Thwaites’ words when in 1886 he said of the river,
“None but a hermit could enjoy those long stretches of waterway where one may float for a day without seeing sign of man nor beast on its forest bound shores and where the oppression of solitude is felt with such force that it takes but slight stretch of the imagination to carry oneself back in thought and feeling to the times when the black robed members of the company of Jesus first penetrated the gloomy wilderness.”
Unless you’re a local resident, you may not understand the quality of life that comes with living in close proximity to the river. You may not understand that the river plays a major role in the local economy through tourism with the largest percentage of recreational users on the entire Riverway project, nearly 70% of all river users, utilizing the Sauk-Prairie to Spring Green segment.
Unless you’re a student of recent history and state politics, you may not realize that the Riverway was a bipartisan compromise reached in 1989 after years of planning and literally hundreds of public meetings. You may not realize that the Riverway encompasses nearly 80,000 acres of public and private lands along the final 92 miles of the Wisconsin River, one of the longest stretches of free flowing water remaining in the Midwest, extending from the dam at Prairie du Sac to the confluence with the Mississippi River near Prairie du Chien. You may not realize that the Riverway Board, a nine-member citizen board, was created as a key component of that compromise. You further may not realize that the Riverway Board is an independent state agency, separate from the DNR, based in Muscoda, not Madison, that is charged with protection and preservation of the scenic beauty and natural character of the lower Wisconsin River valley. You also may not know that I was hired as the first Executive Director board shortly after its inception nearly fifteen years ago and have been with the agency ever since.
And so, Mr. Chairman, when the Riverway Board requests that Sauk County consider alternatives to the Thuli Road site, it is because the board takes its mission seriously; that being, to protect this magnificent resource that we enjoy today and preserve it so that your children and grandchildren can see the same sites and experience the same feelings as did the effigy mound builders 1000 years ago, as did Marquette and Joliet in 1673, as Jonathon Carver did in 1766, as Henry Schoolcraft did in 1820, as Rueben Gold Thwaites did in 1886, as August Derleth and Aldo Leopold did in the mid 1900’s, and, again, as we do today.
Mr. Chairman, when the board asks the county to evaluate alternatives to the Thuli Road site it is because a 250-foot tower with a strobe light and red beacon light at that location will be seen for several miles of river. In essence, a viewshed that is pristine and unblemished will be changed for decades, maybe even a half-century or longer. As a result, the thousands of recreational users who utilize that stretch of river on a yearly basis, will lose the opportunity to see what Marquette and Joliet saw, what Carver, Schoolcraft, Thwaites, Derleth and Leopold saw. What Black Hawk, Henry Dodge, and even Abraham Lincoln saw. What we see today will be changed… and not for the better.
The letter from Mr. Stieve asks several questions of which the board has already answered but which I will answer again. Is the board prepared to provide financial assistance? As was noted at my meeting with the committee on July 21st, the board has an annual budget of about $150,000, less than the cost of one piece of communications equipment. No, Mr. Chairman, the board has no money to offer you. Does the board have information about the viability of other sites? Mr. Chairman, I am not an RF engineer. Heck, I still don’t understand how a FAX machine works. I have simply proposed what appear to be reasonable alternatives, at least alternatives worth exploring, which may accomplish both the communication enhancement goals of the county and also meet the aesthetic protection objectives of the Riverway project.
Mr. Chairman, the memorandum to Mr. Wenzel clearly states that the board recognizes the site of the base of the proposed 250-foot tower at Thuli Road is not within the boundary of the Riverway, therefore, the permit requirements and performance standards of the Riverway law are not applicable. The Riverway Board has no jurisdiction regarding construction of a tower at that site despite its visibility from the river, it is a weakness in the law. I am present today under statutory authority provided to the LWSRB to advise municipalities, such as Sauk County, on the impact of development of land to the Riverway. I’m here today to tell you that construction of a 250-foot tower with strobe light and red beacon light at Thuli Road will have an adverse impact on the scenic beauty and natural character of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway. I am also here to reiterate the Riverway Board’s request that Sauk County evaluate alternatives. Those alternatives were outlined in the memo to Chairman Wenzel. At the very least, the use of the Spring Green water tower should be considered, whether sufficient by itself or in tandem with another tower, 180-foot or less, at a site along STH 60.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I would be happy to answer any questions.
Supervisor Virgil Hartje's criticism of our efforts to preserve the river, "a few people wanting to go back to the 1800s".