Editorial Roundup: Wisconsin

Kenosha News. September 12, 2021.

Editorial: Flight for Life’s Burlington hub is good news

We all hope that we never have to have 911 called for us or for any of our loved ones. We especially hope and pray that it’s not so serious that Flight For Life needs to be called for helicopter transport. But if those emergencies do happen, and soon, the emergency response will be much quicker thanks to the deal between the City of Burlington and Flight For Life to establish a new hub at the Burlington airport.

The deal almost didn’t happen after airport neighbors came forward complaining about the noise. Fortunately, aldermen made the right decision and allowed the deal to move forward in the name of public safety.

As Alderman Theresa Meyer said: “We would be crazy to pass this up.”

The new hub will reduce response times by 20 minutes or more for patients in Burlington and nearby, benefiting residents in all of western Racine and Kenosha counties as well as Walworth County and beyond.

One of the neighbors against this, Keena Vos, said the noise of the helicopters would ruin the quality of life and said, “You are turning Burlington into a Chicago suburb. It’s a total shame … The Burlington residents deserve better.”

No. This is not going to turn Burlington into a Chicago suburb. Not even close.

If you don’t want to hear trains, don’t live by railroad tracks. If you don’t want to hear cars, then don’t live by a highway.

If you don’t want to hear planes, then don’t live by an airport.

In a recent letter to the editor, Mark Van de Bogert, who lives in neighboring Walworth County, wrote: “As someone who had a child transported by helicopter to save their life, I would not have cared if the entire county was awakened by the helicopter. It was necessary to save their life … The Burlington airport has been in public operation since June 1963. Unless those complaining have lived there since then, they moved near an airport knowing it was there.”

The helicopters respond to serious traffic accidents, but also can transport patients in crisis with heart attacks, strokes, pregnancies and other medical emergencies. Officials expect about 300 flights a year to originate from the new Burlington hub.

The hope is that serious accidents don’t happen. But it’s reassuring to know that soon help will be closer when needed.

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Racine Journal Times. September 14, 2021.

Editorial: Tough choices about Echo Lake lie ahead

It would be easy in this space to tell Burlington leaders to do whatever they can to save Echo Lake, the 70-acre body of water that provides an oasis of nature in the heart of the city.

But, alas, the answers to what to do with the troubled body of water are not easy and come with a hefty price tag.

With decades of pollutants and sediment covering the lake bottom, the average water depth is just 2 feet. State regulators have determined that the dam regulates the lake’s water flow into the White River is longer is adequate to protect Burlington from the possibility of a catastrophic flood.

The state Department of Natural Resources has given the City of Burlington until 2025 to either upgrade the dam to meet safety standards, or dismantle the dam and allow Echo Lake to drain into the White River. The choice comes down to either investing millions of dollars in saving the lake, or allowing a longstanding community amenity to vanish into the history books.

Consultants are estimating that it would cost $2.5 million just to dredge the lake bottom and clear out the muck. Studies are still underway to determine if the dam could be modernized to meet state standards, and if so, how much that would cost.

And the meter is already running on consulting costs. City officials have agreed to pay Ayres Associates $11,533 — in addition to $13,500 already paid — to report on the feasibility of the alternative dam approach. The report is expected by November.

The prospect that the lake might go away has understandably struck a nerve in the community. The lake has been part of the Burlington landscape since the 19th century when Ephraim Perkins and his son Pliny received permission to flood land they owned to accommodate a dam they used for milling purposes.

But for much of its existence, the lake has been a natural background for recreation purposes. In the 1930s, the city assumed ownership of the lake. In subsequent years, Echo Lake Park was established along Milwaukee Avenue and has been the site of numerous community functions over the years – from fireworks, to the Lions Club’s popular annual chicken barbeque, arts and craft shows, the Burlington Fire Department’s annual dance, and the Jaycees popular boat races. The Burlington Kiwanis Club places an automobile on the frozen lake and raises money by inviting people to guess the exact date when a spring thaw will send the vehicle crashing through the ice.

Children have run in playful bliss in the grassy areas between the Echo Lake playground and the lake shore. Picnickers have enjoyed the view for generations.

In 1963, the Veterans Memorial Building was built as a place for veterans groups to meet and as a venue for receptions and community events. That structure was replaced with the much more aesthetically pleasing and accommodating Veterans Terrace in the 2009. The lake has been the backdrop to numerous wedding photos.

In the waters just southeast of the dam fisherman have long enjoyed the rocky area of the White River that flows to its nearby confluence with the Fox River in the heart of Downtown.

In short Echo Lake is part of the fabric that makes Burlington the great city it is.

Paul Haynes, a former longtime city Park Board member and board president, says it may be time to return the acreage the lake flows over to its former and natural identity of being terra firma. And, after the devastating flood of 2017 that left much of the Downtown and residential areas along the Fox River under water, maybe heeding the advice of the DNR and environmental engineers is in order.

But hundreds of residents are sounding the alarm and urging preservation of their beloved Echo Lake.

And, acknowledging that there will be expensive upfront costs to study options, we urge city leaders to continue to do all they can to gather information to determine what can be done and to look for funding assistance in the form of grants and possible state and county aid.

But we also understand that city leaders have a fiscal responsibility and there are, of course, many ongoing needs and unexpected expenses in running a city that is a regional center of commerce and home to more than 11,000 residents.

“This is a huge decision that has the potential to impact the community for generations to come,” Mayor Jeannie Hefty said in a statement. “We must be thoughtful, thorough, and not make decisions based on emotions.”

We agree and extend our thoughts and best wishes to Burlington as the community tackles this most difficult chapter in its history.

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Wisconsin State Journal. September 12, 2021.

Editorial: Tell your children where you were on 9/11, how it felt, why America pulled together

Where were you when you first heard about the terrorist attacks on 9/11?

Bart Van Roo of Waunakee was home with his wife the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. They turned on their TV and, like millions of Americans, watched in horror as a second plane crashed into the twin towers at the World Trade Center in New York City.

Van Roo knew his life would never be the same. Neither would Wisconsin’s and our nation’s sense of security. Not since Pearl Harbor in 1941 had the United States suffered such a devastating attack on its own soil.

Within hours, Van Roo was at Truax Field in Madison, waiting for the F-16 fighter jets he regularly flew on National Guard training missions to be equipped with missiles. The next day and for months after that, he was flying 20-mile loops above Chicago and sometimes New York, Washington and other big cities to protect against further attacks.

His new mission came with an unsettling possibility — that he might have to intercept or even shoot down a hijacked plane filled with passengers, if terrorists were steering it toward the Sears or Hancock towers in Chicago, or maybe the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison. All were considered potential targets.

Thankfully, that never happened, though F-16s from Truax did have to confront a stolen plane from Canada, escorting it to a safe landing in Missouri. On another occasion, they responded to a jet with a passenger breaking into the cockpit, though authorities determined the intruder wasn’t a terrorist.

“I certainly felt proud that we were there just in case something happened, and as a deterrent,” Van Roo said last week. “It’s hard even for this generation in the military to understand how different the day before 9/11 was from the day after 9/11.”

The world changed in so many ways.

America lost its innocence 20 years ago on Sept. 11, realizing in the most dreadful of ways that we were vulnerable to fanatical enemies who could exact a terrible toll despite limited resources and crude means of violence. Nearly 3,000 people died in the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon in Washington when a third plane crashed there, and in Pennsylvania where a fourth jet plunged into a field (thanks to courageous passengers who fought the hijackers, preventing what might have been the destruction of the U.S. Capitol).

“Never forget” became America’s rallying cry. We’ll never forget the lives taken nor the heroes who saved lives. First-responders ran into burning towers. Many never made it out.

We’ll never forget how shaken yet resolved our nation was to prevent similar attacks. So far, on that goal, we have succeeded. America feels safer from such attacks today, though domestic gun violence and cyber threats have increased.

We should never forget that our nation’s initial attempt to protect our freedoms by limiting them with Patriot Act surveillance of citizens proved excessive, as then-U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin had warned. Congress subsequently allowed much of the Patriot Act’s big-government intrusions to expire.

We’ll never forget how America unified to defend our democratic values and freedoms, with rousing international support. It was a special moment for America’s ideals. Our nation and its people rose above the dark forces that favored a barbaric past.

That’s something our children and future generations need to know, with all of the passion and complexity that factored into that tragic day 20 years ago, including America’s conflicted history in the Middle East before and after 9/11. Our children need to learn from the past to improve their and our nation’s future.

Too often today, our nation divides when we are challenged. Faced with a pandemic, we bicker over masks and vaccines. Shocked by the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — where ragtag protesters sought to overturn a legitimate election — far too many of our leaders in Congress chose politics over patriotism. Extreme voices on social media fan the flames of discord.

Our children need to hear a different story — the one from two decades ago when love for our country fostered enormous good will and cooperation to keep America’s beacon of hope shining around the world.

We were all Americans who shared a common experience and bond 20 years ago in the days that followed Sept. 11. We are still those Americans today in a growing melting pot of people who believe in freedom and liberty for all. Regardless of our political and cultural differences, we must strive to find the good in our fellow citizens, to respect their pursuits of happiness, and to try to come together around common goals.

Van Roo, now the commander of the 115th Fighter Wing at Truax, is one of two pilots still flying out of the military base in Madison who participated in the 24/7 air patrols following 9/11. He missed multiple Christmases and other holidays away from family, and deployed overseas to Qatar, Iraq, Japan, Korea, Afghanistan and Europe.

Tens of thousands of Americans similarly served at home and abroad to deter the sources of terrorism that could spawn another 9/11-sized attack. We need to honor their sacrifice today.

Van Roo never finished medical school to become a physician assistant, as he had planned. The trajectories of so many lives were altered by that fateful day when the towers fell.

“Flying at 1 o’clock in the morning over a big city, realizing you are there to protect it, you think, ‘How did I end up here?’” Van Roo said last week. “It’s not something I ever thought we would be having to do.”

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