Don’t let the gripers win!

Posted on June 10, 2008. Filed under: Wind |

A commentary by Scott Milford in the Wisconsin State Journal:

I can lie in my bed at night with the window open and hear the traffic on Highway 51 two blocks to the east.

I don’t mind the noise at all — a subtle and consistent whoosh that you’d have to concentrate on to really notice.

It sounds like a city. I wouldn’t want to live right next to the four-lane expressway. Yet I’d probably miss it if I moved farther away.

The best part is this: That road noise helped my family afford our cozy home with a large backyard on Madison’s otherwise pricey East Side. Our close proximity to the highway helps hold down neighborhood real estate prices.

This is true in a lot of spots across the city. Urban sights and sounds such as highways, airports, trains and transmission lines have done far more to provide affordable housing in Madison than anything our touchy-feely city leaders have accomplished through convoluted development laws.

I am not advocating for more blight and noise. But it does bug me when people move to the city and then demand that it not sound or look urban.

The best (or worst) example of this is Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz’s ongoing effort to ban train whistles Downtown. He’s spending millions on gates, lights and signs around Downtown railroad crossings so that the city can legally enforce “quiet zones” without jeopardizing public safety.

What’s funny is that lonesome train whistles are more associated with rural than urban life. Think Johnny Cash, the Old West or hobos.

I grew up in small-town Wisconsin a half block from train tracks. Often at night a whistle would loudly sound. These days, when train horns blow late at night in my Madison neighborhood, I feel nostalgic and peaceful.

The latest and most unfortunate target of picky people are majestic windmills, which produce clean and renewable energy — something our state and nation need more of. Wind farms are being proposed and opposed in rural and urban settings. The complainers blame windmills for casting shadows, making noise, ruining scenery and threatening birds.

I have a smidge of sympathy for people who don’t want giant windmills going up immediately next door to their homes. But even conceptual plans to site windmills miles offshore in Lake Michigan and the Atlantic Ocean face fierce and fussy foes.

In Cape Cod, for example, U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., vehemently opposes a wind farm 8 miles from his oceanfront mansion. Here in Wisconsin, cries of “local control” shot down a sensible bill to standardize and streamline the approval process for wind farms statewide.

A couple of weeks ago I stood beneath one of several picturesque wind turbines at a modern wind farm overlooking Lake Winnebago near Fond du Lac. I shut off the car, silenced the kids and got out to listen.

I could barely hear a thing from the spinning blades high above. It was even softer than the traffic on Highway 51 from my bedroom.

We can’t let the gripers win — especially when it comes to improving our mostly imported and dirty energy supply.


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