The Fen at Scuppernong Springs

The Fen at Scuppernong Springs

I always thought the Scuppernong Springs was a jewel — a “World Class” site —  as retired DNR Naturalist Ron Kurowski would say.  When I discovered back in July, 2012 that the Scuppernong River Area was one of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association‘s “Wetland Gems“, I reached out to them for some advice.  WWA Executive Director Tracy Hames, newly arrrived from his previous position as head of the Yakama Nation’s Waterfowl Program, responded quickly and we soon had a date set for his first visit to The Springs.  Here is the interview I captured with Tracy back in August 2012 — his love and passion for wetlands is inspiring!  We’ve stayed in touch since that first visit and Tracy recently brought the entire WWA staff to check out The Springs.


Kyle, Jake, Erin, Chelsea, Tod, Tracy and Katie

Tracy had just let me know that I would be one of the recipients of the 2016 Wisconsin Wetlands Association’s Wetlands Award.  I don’t volunteer my time and energy to try and garner any awards — it’s how I escape the reality of a world gone mad — but I’m proud to have received this honor from the WWA and I invite you to the celebration:

Wisconsin Wetlands Association’s Wetlands Awards recognize individuals and groups whose work advances our tri-fold mission – the protection, restoration and enjoyment of Wisconsin’s wetlands and related ecosystems.

Wetlands Awards celebration information:

November 10, 2016
UW Madison Arboretum
1207 Seminole Hwy, Madison, WI

Tickets $40/person
Event includes a buffet dinner and cash bar.
Get your tickets today by calling (608) 250-9971. RSVPs required by November 3rd.

I’ll be sharing the spotlight with:

The Friends of the La Crosse River Marsh

And the Oneida Nation.  oneida-indian-nation-big-logo

Of course I couldn’t have done it without the love, support and excellent nomination of Pati Holman.  The Southeast Wisconsin Trout Unlimited chapter deserves credit for all the work they’ve done on the Scuppernong River.  And the Kettle Moraine Natural History Association has long played a key role in the rehabilitation of the Scuppernong River Habitat Area, partly by their financial support for The Buckthorn Man.  And, I’m practicing my speech here, thanks to all the friends who have helped me at The Springs, especially Lindsay Knudsvig and Ben Johnson.  I hope to see you at the Arboretum!

Biodiversity is one of the distinguishing features of the Scuppernong Springs and in the past month I have been working in the fen area shown approximately in blue on the map below.


I’ve been noticing a proliferation of tight groups of glossy buckthorn, which I’m guessing metatasized from batches of finely seasonsed seeds deposited via deer feces.  They consist of as many as 20 individual stalks that have reached a height of around 10-12′ growing from little mounds.   The understory is a carpet of 2″ buckthorn seedlings ready to take advantage of the sunlight.  Deer must love this place as their beds are everywhere.  When you stand on the marl pit bridge and look southeast into this area you can see the encroaching buckthorn.


The bunches of glossy buckthorn look like green snowcones in front of the wall of tall trees in the background.

I am trying to nip this onslaught in the bud with my brushcutter; in another couple years, it will take a chainsaw, and in a decade, the fen will be completely covered.  But I am learning that, unless you can control the schedule of the application of prescribed burns, you are creating more problems than you solve by opening up the canopy to a carpet of buckthorn seedlings.  Thus, I will be applying a foliar spray of Aquaneat to the glossy buckthorn carpet to prevent another thicket emerging — I’m making an exception to save the fen.

The last prescribed burn at The Springs was back in May, 2013 and we really need another one to put a check on the buckthorn seedlings and resprouts.  I’ve been busy in the past month mowing and treating buckthorn seedlings and resprouts in many different areas.  These young trees are wasting no time in producing seeds and it gives me a little angst to walk the trails and see the buckthorn resurging in all of the areas where we cleared the big buckthorn.  My strategy of mowing and treating, rather than foliar spraying, is not working very well absent prescribed fire.  I’m doing the best I can to keep up with the resprouts and I think I may forego cutting anymore big buckthorn at the Scuppernong Springs until I get the buckthorn seedlings and resprouts under control in the areas already cleared.

The areas marked in red on the map below show where I have been brushcutting.


I had an excellent workday at the Hartland Marsh with help from the Waukesha/Milwaukee chapter of the Ice Age trail, students from Arrowhead High School, and the Friends of the Hartland Marsh.  Our next workday at The Marsh is November 5th; we’ll be working on the John Muir Island.


I’ve been brushcutting buckthorn seedlings and resprouts at the Waukesha County Land Conservancy‘s property at the Hartland Marsh as well, and recently did some infrastructure support work on the Bark River bridge there.

img_2516Back in the summer of 2010 we had a major rainfall event, and the water rose so high in the Bark River that it lifted the bridge, shown above, off it’s supports and left it pointing downstream — hanging onto the bank by a corner.  Mike Fort and I swam and waded into the river and guided the bridge back over to its original position.  It felt miraculous!  A month or two ago I noticed that one of the support posts had shifted and was barely carrying any load.

img_2536My first attempt to fix it was not quite right as I lifted it completely off its partner support.


I repositioned it to distribute the load to both supports and its a little better now than when I started, but this needs work.  I would hate to loose that bridge!

img_2585My plan for the next few months, or as long into the winter as I can do it, is to concentrate on buckthorn seedlings and resprouts.  I have a new camera and plan to break it out soon.  In the meantime, here are a few parting shots courtesy of my iPhone.

See you at The Springs!

Weeding 9/11

Weeding 9/11

The Buckthorn Man and I are 9/11 Truthers.  I go back and forth in my head between the reality that the official story about what happened on 9/11 is a myth, and the realization that most people don’t see it that way, or simply don’t care if it is or isn’t.  It’s the later thoughts that drive me into the woods sometimes.  There, when I see a weed, or a buckthorn tree, I can pull it, or cut it — make the scene more beautiful, more truthful.  In the “real” world however, removing the weeds obscuring the truths surrounding the events of 9/11 is not so simple: the best I can do is share what I have learned and hope that you are reason-able and not ignore-ant.

So, let me ask you: Is there anything I could say or show you right here that could change your mind about anything you think you already know about the events of 9/11?  If the answer is NO, then skip down in this post until you see JB The Explorer‘s beautiful photographs.

The last time we saw The Buckthorn Man, he was in the Garden of Weed’in enjoying the fruit of the tree of knowledge, which is rooted deeply in who, what, where, and when, and grows with understanding (why), bearing the fruits of wisdom (how).  Yes, I’m talking about the trivium again: grammar, logic and rhetoric are tools people of good will can use together to discover what is true — what is real.

“I keep six honest serving men (they taught me all i knew); Theirs names are What and Why and When And How And Where and Who.”

Rudyard Kipling

If you are still with me, then your mind is open and I’m assuming you will at least entertain these thoughts.  In case you are not already familiar with his work, let me introduce you to a very talented investigative reporter named James Corbett.  Like me, he is also a weed puller: the invasive species he fights include government violence, coercion, lies, secrecy and corruption.  His garden is The Truth, and it bears good fruit — here, take a bite!

Rudy Giuliani, Mayor of New York (all video descriptions are from James)

Mayor Giuliani oversaw the illegal destruction of the 9/11 crime scene and is criminally liable for the deaths of hundreds of emergency workers for not passing on prior warnings about the collapses of the Twin Towers. It is no wonder, then, that the Fire Department of New York so passionately detest Giuliani for his actions in disgracing their fallen brothers and covering up the 9/11 crime.

Christine Todd Whitman, EPA Administrator

If the brave men and women who had rushed to the World Trade Center in the chaotic days after 9/11 to help with the search and rescue had done so knowing the risks they were facing, that would be one thing. But of course they did not. They had been given false assurances by Christine Todd Whitman, the EPA administrator who assured the public just days into the clean up that the air was safe to breathe.

Philip Zelikow, Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission

In January of 2003, just weeks after Kissinger stepped down, it was quietly announced that Philip D. Zelikow would take on the role of executive director. As executive director, Zelikow picked “the areas of investigation, the briefing materials, the topics for hearings, the witnesses, and the lines of questioning for witnesses.” In effect, this was the man in charge of running the investigation itself.

Remember Mort Sahl, the famous comedian?  He asked a poignant question in his 1976 autobiography Heartland: “How many lies do you have to believe before you become part of the lie?”

Investigate 9/11!

That being read/seen (maybe?), it’s time for the latest adventures of The Buckthorn Man.  But first, let me share some beautiful pictures and video of The Springs from Jon Bradley.







Thanks Jon, that was beautiful!

In case you have not driven lately in the vicinity of Hwy 67, where eastbound Hwy ZZ meets it (across the road from the Hotel Springs), the DNR hired a forester to harvest some of the hardwoods from the area.  They did a fantastic job mowing the buckthorn and honeysuckle that was thick in the understory in preparation for the tree thinning operation.

I spent the day pulling weeds like queen anne’s lace and sow thistle near the Scuppernong Spring.


Jared Urban, DNR Conservation Biologist,  gave me two very cool signs to put up at the Ottawa Lake Fen State Natural Area.

img_2467I spent a couple days putting up the signs at the fen and cutting and treating black locust seedlings.

The DNR Fisheries team did a great job dredging the muck from McKeawn Spring, which is just south of the Scuppernong Springs on the east side of Hwy 67.

After a road trip to Royal Oak, MI to help my friend Chris Belleau at the Art, Beats and Eats fair…


… it was back to work at The Springs.  I’ve been meaning to finish clearing the watercress from the Fish Hatchery Springs and finally got to it.  I knew there were some cool springs hidden there!  Later that same day I worked to improve the main Scuppernong river channel near the marl pit bridge by digging out cattails and moving some logs and stones.

And just yesterday, I had a fine day at The Springs, mowing a couple of overgrown areas along the trail and digging in a bit further to cut and treat some young buckthorn saplings.




Finally, The Buckthorn Man is one of the recipients of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association’s 2016 Wetland Awards.   Please join me at the celebration on November 10 at the UW Madison Arboretum (details at WWA).

See you at The Springs!

The Garden of Weed’in

The Garden of Weed’in

I always wondered what it would be like to capsize a canoe in the middle of a windswept lake and I recently got to experience it on Lake Nokomis with my good friend, Todd Nelson.  I saved my tevas and backpack but lost my Canon G15 camera.  Todd saved his guitar but lost his funky hat and iPhone.  The thing I liked about it was that neither of us got upset in any way; we made it to shore, emptied the canoe and finished our voyage.  It was almost a pleasure to deal with the adversity, together, in a calm way.


Todd playing his song Sleeping Man in his inimitable style

I’ve been super busy this last month helping my friend Scott Finch break down his recording studio and move to North Carolina…

Velvet Sky Studio

Velvet Sky Studio

… and doing two art fairs with my friend Chris Belleau, but there is some good news and progress to share from The Buckthorn Man.


Chris Belleau at the Morning Glory Art Fair in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Summer is the season to attack weeds and in years past I focused on pulling spotted knapweed on the sand prairie.  That is until August of 2014, when I introduced both flower (Larinus minutus) and root (Clyphocleonus achates) weevils to munch on the knapweed.  This is their third year feasting at the sand prairie and they are really getting the job done!  Now, when are they going to find an effective biocontrol for garlic mustard?

I’ve been concentrating on other weeds this summer and feeling sanguine about the prospect of significantly reducing the exotic, invasive plants, at The Springs and the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA.  One of the weeds I’ve been working on is narrow-leaved cattail — in cases where it is dominating springs or blocking the main channel down the river.  There are many springs on the east/right side of the observation deck at the Emerald Spring that were totally covered in cattails.  Here are before and after views.

IMG_2295IMG_2305IMG_2308And just last week I dug out cattails and reed canary grass from the main river channel all the way from the Hotel Springs upstream to the Hatching House Springs (map here).  I’ve been sprucing up the river in anticipation of meeting Tracy Hames, executive director of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, and his entire staff, for a tour of the wetlands in the Scuppernong River Nature Preserve.  We had an excellent visit a few weeks ago exploring the wetlands that we opened up on the north end of the loop trail, and wading upstream from the gaging station bridge all the way to the Hotel Springs.  Tracy suggested we cut the narrow-leaved cattails as low as possible prior to the tentatively scheduled fall prescribed burn (hopefully DNR burn boss, Don Dane, can pull this off).  Not only will this put more dried fuel on the ground it will increase the chances that the burned tips of the cattails will be submerged under water next spring, which would significantly diminish their regrowth.  Tracy also pointed out that purple loosestrife was popping up all over the place.  I explained that biocontrol agents for the loosestrife had been released at The Springs more than 5 years ago and that they had made a dramatic impact on the southwest border of the nature preserve.  We speculated that the loosestrife beetles would find the newly emerging plants, but I’m probably going to pull all the isolated purple loosestrife I can find before they set seed — to be on the safe side.


It was a real pleasure to share The Springs with such an enthusiastic and supportive group!

After the meeting with Tracy and the WWA staff, I visited the Indian Springs to pull creeping bentgrass that was spreading like crazy and setting loads of seed.  Here is a gallery of before and after images.

I took a couple days off from pulling and collecting seed heads from canada thistle, bull thistle, sow thistle, white sweet clover and yellow sweet clover at The Springs to hang out with Lindsay Knudsvig at the Hardscrabble Prairie State Natural Area, near Hazel Green, Wisconsin.  Lindsay is currently working in nearby Dubuque, Iowa and he has adopted the Hardscrabble Prairie SNA as his own.  We need more people like Lindsay who care about the land, see what needs to be done, and simply do it.


I managed to squeeze in 5 days of camping at My Shangri-La (campsite #335 at Ottawa Lake), and took advantage of the proximity to get some work done at the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA.  I had not been there since May and I was amazed at how overgrown the trail from the campsite north around the fen had become.  Numerous box elder and black locust trees that we girdled a few years back had fallen across the trail and black locust seedlings and weeds of every stripe had made the trail nearly impassable.  Jared Urban, conservation biologist with the DNR and the main force behind the State Natural Areas volunteer program, was planning to visit so I spent two days clearing the trail and pulling weeds.

IMG_2408We explored the east shoreline of Ottawa Lake and took the freshly cleared trail around the north side of the fen, celebrating the progress that has been made.  Jared pointed out a few weeds like Japanese hedgeparsley and teasel that were just starting to make inroads and, needless to say, I pulled all I could find.   There is still a lot more weed pulling and weed seed collecting to do at both the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA and at the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail.  I started on the queen anne’s lace near the Hotel Springs and Jared tells me I’m way ahead of the DNR on this one.

IMG_2424IMG_2425Well, this has been a rambling recap of the adventures of The Buckthorn Man in the Garden of Weed’in.  You know, ever since he tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and learned the difference between right and wrong, he has been a missionary: shining the light of truth into the darkness; pulling out the weeds to reveal the magnificence of The Creator.

In 2013 I ran into the DNR water quality team doing a fish count on the Scuppernong River and it was fascinating.  Then in 2014 I coincidentally ran into them again and documented it on my old website here.  I wasn’t able to join them in 2015 or 2016, but I got the latest counts from 2016.

Scuppernong River Fish Counts
Fish 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Brook Trout 121 213 92 66 46 113 27
Brook Stickleback 59 25 11 1 4 93 94
Central Mudminnow 69 72 15 5 58 69 2
Fantail Darter 2 10 8 9 0 36 58
Grass Pickerel 0 1 1 1 10 1 1
Green Sunfish 0 1 0 4 0 0 0
Johnny Darter 0 2 1 0 0 2 7
Largemouth Bass 0 0 0 0 0 0 3
Mottled Sculpin 240 169 211 86 107 212 168
Northern Pike 0 0 0 3 0 0 0

The DNR always counts fish in the same stretch of river between the gaging station bridge and the Hotel Springs and I always see 6-8 brook trout hanging out just below the bridge that is upstream of the Hotel Springs.  It is possible that all of the stream remediation work we have been doing has prompted a natural redistribution of the brook trout upstream of their old haunts.  The DNR has stocked brown trout and lately, brook trout, in the Scuppernong River, so that is another factor to consider.

Here are some parting shots…

See you at The Springs!

The Hillside Springs Revealed

The Hillside Springs Revealed

In case you were wondering why The Buckthorn Man got so upset about the sweetheart deal the Village of Hartland secretly gave to JD McCormick, LLC to develop the Riverwalk apartment complex that I reported on last time, it’s because I happened to be reading Gustavus Myers’ fantastic History of the Great American Fortunes.  In the fine tradition of John Jacob Astor, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Marshal Field, Jay Gould, J. Pierpont Morgan and Edward H. Harriman, Joe McCormick is getting rich at the taxpayer’s expense and that bugs me.  I had hoped to work with the Village of Hartland to help them formulate a plan to restore, preserve and protect their environmental corridor but I found that Village Administrator and Board have no integrity and cannot be trusted.  The taxpayers of Hartland gave “Poor Joe” $1,615,000 to acquire the land for the Riverwalk development and they don’t know or care, or they don’t care to know, or they know and don’t care — I don’t know.

I’ve been trying to carry on at the Scuppernong Springs, but with a heavy heart, and I even organized a workday with the Ice Age Trail Alliance at the Hartland Marsh despite my disgust and disillusionment with the Village leadership.  Here are a few recent pages from The Buckthorn Man‘s diary .

June 23, 2016

A large patch of poison hemlock had sprung up out of nowhere near the old hotel site and I carefully mowed it down with my brush cutter.

IMG_8901It’s been three years since I became enlightened with “organic consciousness” and I don’t spray weeds with herbicide anymore.  Now I just mow and pull and try to stop the weeds from going to seed.  I mowed this patch of crown vetch near the Hotel Springs.

IMG_8897The Emerald Springs are a lovely little pool of springs but half of them were hidden under a blanket of watercress.  Here is a gallery of before and after shots of my weed pulling exercise.  I’m not done here and plan to open up this pool and make it more accessible to ducks in the dead of winter.

June 25, 2016

Last February we got a big assist from the DNR when Don Dane and Mike Spaight donated two days of forestry mowing to our restoration project at the Hartland Marsh.  The Friends of the Hartland Marsh and members of the Waukesha/Milwaukee chapter of the Ice Age Trail Alliance joined forces in hand to hand combat with buckthorn seedlings on a very hot and steamy summer day.

June 27, 2016

Back at the Scuppernong Springs, there was one last area of springs called The Hillside Springs that really needed some attention.  HillsideSpringsThe springs were choked with watercress.

I spent the afternoon pulling Canada Thistle and I really appreciated DNR Conservation Biologist, Jared Urban, sharing the following information about native and invasive thistles.


ThistleBrochure_pg2One thing that makes working at The Springs so much fun is when other people appreciate it.  The Keepers of the Springs, John and Sue Hrobar sent me these fantastic dragonfly pictures that Sue took there.

Swamp Darner

Swamp Darner

Mature Whitetail

Mature Whitetail

dragonfly A 06:03

Immature Whitetail

June 29, 2016

Back at the Hillside Springs there were 4, 8′ deck sections laying directly on the ground near the springs blocking the natural flow of water down the hillside.  One of the decks had been damaged by fire and they were not arranged in a way that provided the best view of the springs.  I had a general plan to reuse 40′ of boardwalk that had been high and dry on the main trail nearby for years, and bring the 5, 8′ deck sections over to the Hillside Springs and use them to build a better viewing platform.  This would require pedestals to support the decks, like we have done in other locations, and there was a handy large dead aspen tree nearby that I planned to take down and cut up into building material.  Listen as The Buckthorn Man explains his plan.

I spent the afternoon pulling Canada thistle.

July 2, 2016

I mentioned to Ben Johnson that I had one goal for the year and that was to fix the decks at the Hillside Springs and he immediately responded and suggested we get after it pronto — so we did.  Thanks Ben!  Lindsay Knudsvig joined in the fun and we had a deck raising party!

July 5, 2016

I spent a peaceful and meditative day pulling thistles.  It was a very satisfying feeling to weed gardens of bee balm, aster and goldenrod of their prickly invaders.

July 8, 2015

More Canada thistle pulling along with any white and yellow clover I could find.

IMG_2287July 10, 2015

I mowed the weeds near the marl pit bridge and pulled thistle and clover the rest of the day.


IMG_9115IMG_9124July 14, 2016

Another day spent pulling thistle.  I really enjoyed the solitude.


The week of July 19-25 I went to Ann Arbor Michigan to help my good friend Chris Belleau present his glass artwork at the their famous street fair.

IMG_2289IMG_2288IMG_3678FullSizeRenderIMG_3657See you at The Springs!

Hartland’s TIF District Shell Game

Hartland’s TIF District Shell Game

This is the most difficult post I have ever written; the story is complicated and sorely disappoints me.  I realized that I could no longer work with the Village of Hartland Board and resigned my appointment to the Village’s new Environmental Corridor and Open Spaces Task Force, even though it was mostly because of my efforts that this task force was created.

When Wendi M. Unger, CPA, Partner, Baker Tilly presented the 2015 Village of Hartland Audited Financial Statements to the Board on May 23, 2016, I was all ears.  That may sound like a pretty dry topic to get excited about, but I’ve been frustrated and dismayed by the reluctance on the part of the Village of Hartland leadership to apply the resources necessary to take care of all of their land, especially given the strong financial position of the Village.  The Village Department of Public Works (DPW) has, without the Board’s explicit approval, implemented a policy over the years of partitioning Village Land into maintained and unmaintained areas: If it’s mowed around, it’s maintained, if not, forget about it.  Obviously, this keeps costs down, but over the years the unmaintained areas of Village properties like Penbrook Park have become seriously degraded and overrun by invasive species like buckthorn and garlic mustard.

During her presentation, when discussing the $321,463 excess in actual expenditures for TIF (Tax Incremental Financing) over the estimated expenses (see page 45 in the 2015 Audited Financial Statements), Ms. Unger mentioned in passing land that was donated to the developer.  That got my attention and I began to investigate to find out — Who was the lucky developer?


I checked the Village of Hartland 2015 Audited Financial Statements and found no footnotes explaining the TIF expenses.  Ryan Bailey, the Village Accountant, explained that this is kosher per the Government Accounting Standards Board, but it’s definitely not transparent.  You will see below that, per GASB standards, a municipality can make taxpayer funded gifts to developers without revealing them in their financial statements.  It is possible that my questions to Ryan about the TIF expenses may have prompted his letter to the Village Board dated June 20, 2016 where he wrote:

The State of Wisconsin mandates that all TIF District’s have audits when each of the following occurs 30% of project plan expenditures is met, 100% of project plan expenditures is met, and the close-out of the TIF District (maximum of 23 years after the creation).  TIF #4 has reached the 30% and 100% of project plan expenditures as stated in the TIF plan document and requires an audit.  Staff has requested an engagement letter from Baker Tilly for the TIF audit.  Baker Tilly anticipates the fee to be approximately $2,500-$3,500 for the audit and audit report that will be prepared.

The close-out TIF audit will happen when the TIF has created enough increment to offset expenditures and eliminate the TIF’s negative fund balance.  Currently TIF #4 has a fund balance deficit of $649,220.  TIF #4 was shrunk down to two parcels last year in the hopes of gaining some positive increment to help offset as much of the fund balance deficit as possible.  Depending on the increase of property values this TIF will take a while to overcome this deficit and eventually close out.

This is a full year after the triggering events — but better late than never.  I’ll be interested to see the results of that audit, and you might be too, after you read the story below.  God forbid they should resurrect the Joint Review Board to review the audit.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In 2009 the Village of Hartland purchased two properties,  HAV 0424032 and HAV 0424033 for a total of $415,487.  At a time of depressed real estate values, the Village paid a premium of almost $62,000 above the $353,100 assessed value for the two properties.  The buildings were razed and the land was conveyed/given/ceded/transferred/donated, at no cost, to JD McCormick, LLC as part of the Village’s incentive package to develop the Hartland Riverwalk Apartments.  This project was packaged as TIF District 6 and described in the Lake Country Reporter.

The LCR story includes : “Cox said that McCormick initially requested more than $1.93 million in financial support and the no-cost transfer of two village-owned parcels of land to assist in the redevelopment of the Riverwalk site, between East Capitol Drive and Lawn Street. He later agreed to the reduced figure.”  Yes, he did agree to a reduced figure of $1.75 million, but the story fails to confirm the fact that the, “no-cost transfer of two village-owned parcels of land”, was included in the deal, nor does it mention the cost to the Village of these two parcels.

Joint Review Board

The Village of Hartland had decided that TIF District 4 was not working out as they had planned and, in its current configuration, it could not support the new apartment development they had in mind.  So they proposed an Amendment to TIF District 4 to remove all but two parcels, and the creation of TIF District 6 to support the Riverwalk Apartments development project.  The Village was obligated by Wisconsin Statutes to create a temporary Joint Review Board and submit their TIF District proposals to them for final approval.  The JRB consists of representatives from the overlying taxing authorities including: David Lamerand, President of the Village of Hartland Board; Norman Cummings, head of the Waukesha County Department of Administration; Cary Tessmann, Vice President – Finance Waukesha Area Technical College District; Diana Taylor, Hartland-Lakeside J3 School District; Steve Kopecky, UHS District of Arrowhead Union High; and Connie Casper, Public Member.  They are interested parties because a portion of the tax revenue they get from the Village is diverted to cover the expenses of the TIF Districts.

At a Joint Review Board meeting on 3/12/15 Norman Cummings asked Village Administrator Dave Cox directly if the Village had paid more than the accessed value for the two properties mentioned above:

Mr. Cummings: So I assume you paid more than the assessment today on those two parcels
Administrator Cox:  We paid less than they were assessed

Dave Cox was not the Administrator of the Village at the time these properties were purchased and perhaps he was simply confused or mistaken.  Ryan Bailey, the Village Finance Director/Treasurer, and Village Board President, David Lamerand, were at the meeting and chose not to correct Administrator Cox — maybe they forgot how much the Village paid.  You can listen to the 3/12/15 JRB meeting here, the relevant discussion begins at 3:00.

On May 27, 2015 the JRB met and had a substantive discussion despite the fact that the first chance they had to review the documents for the complex and detailed proposals was at the time of the meeting.  The Project Plans for the TIF District 4 amendment and the creation of TIF District 6 that they reviewed are linked here and you can listen to the audio of the meeting here (note that the recording I got from the Village Clerk does not start at the beginning of the meeting).  Village Administrator Dave Cox, Village Attorney William E. Taibl and James Mann from Ehlers (a municipal financial advisory company) were also present.  There are a couple of noteworthy exchanges that I want to point out,  the first is concerning TIF District 4:

Mr. Cummings: How much more is being added to the $500,000 that has been spent so far?
Mr. Mann: Its not anticipated that there’s going to be any additional expenditures in TID 4.

Mr. Mann and Administrator Cox repeatedly make the claim that no further expenses will be charged to TIF District 4 in 2015 when they should be aware that $143,000 of additional expense will be charged to the district when the Village conveys the two parcels of land they own to McCormick as part of the TIF District 6 deal (the shell game).

The other conversation I want to highlight here concerns the creation of TIF District 6.  Below is Version 2 of the Project Costs table from page 16 of the Project Plan that they are referring to in the discussion.  But please note that they were looking at Version 1 of the table, which is not available, so Version 2 below reflects the Village’s attempt to implement the changes recommended by Mr. Cummings.


Mr. Cummings: How much is the developer paying besides the cost of construction?  I mean is this TIF picking up everything?
Mr. Mann: No
Mr. Cummings: It would be real helpful to know what the developer’s contributing versus the taxpayers.
Mr. Mann: The developer is contributing 2 million dollars of sunk cost, umm, for the purchase of the land.
Mr. Cummings: And what’s the land assessed at?  What’s the equalized value of the land?
Mr. Mann: The equalized value of the land as it stands right now is 1.3 million dollars.
Mr. Cummings: Then why is he paying 2 million?
Mann: Some of that has already had structures removed.
Mr. Cummings: Yeah Ohh.
Mr. Mann: So the value of the land has already had structures removed.  Those structures were removed before.
Mr. Cummings: And so, would this, would this have sold for 2 million if it’s not for TIF?  I mean are we basically, you know, I’ve seen other projects here where we’re basically paying more than what it’s worth by using tax dollars.  It shouldn’t work that way.
Mr. Mann: I mean you’ve got a million dollars just in the land value of the two remaining structures that are on the property.
Mr. Cummings: The structures are going to be removed right?
Mr. Mann: Correct.
Mr. Cummings: So there’s no value to anybody.
Mr. Mann: Correct and that’s the problem we have to spend a million dollars to start this project.
Mr. Cummings: Ok, I understand from the developer’s standpoint, but why are we paying the property owner so much money when it’s not going to sell?  Why are you paying him $700,000 more than it’s equalized value?
Administrator Cox: Jim what are you including in the 2 million acquisition costs?
Mr Mann: Well you’ve got, I mean I’m just looking at our project list in terms of what we’ve got included in the project plan itself.
Mr. Cummings: I’m talking about the developer’s costs, you said he paid 2 million for the land.
Mr. Mann: He is 2 million of cost which he’s included.
Administrator Cox: It’s not just the land.
Mr. Mann:  His equity into the project.
Administrator Cox: He has, and maybe Norm, maybe you asked something we didn’t answer to it.  He’s acquiring the strip mall itself for, call it a million dollars, its a little less than a million dollars, he’s acquiring, he had acquired already, ahh, the residential property adjacent to the subdivision contributing…
Mr. Cummings interrupts: Did he remove the buildings?
Administrator Cox: No.  And then the Village has the two parcels that it acquired and removed the buildings that he’s acquiring, ahh in this process.  And so there’s some costs there and then I don’t know what else he’s got, demolition costs and probably utility work and those kinds of things, that are in there that the Village is supporting.
Mr. Mann: Site prep.
Mr. Cummings:  How much is the Village being reimbursed for their, for their costs?
Administrator Cox: The  Village has a carrying cost of $143,000 on the properties (note, he fails to disclose that the Village paid $415,487 for the two properties in 2009).  Ah, the transaction will probably wash to the Village will get nothing for that, it will be part of the deal.
Mr. Cummings: Well it would be real helpful, and I just saw this in Sussex what they did, because they also had a area that was very difficult to develop.  They had a column of developer costs, they had a column of what the Village has contributed, and they had a column of what the TIF is contributing.  It goes a long way to showing us how much went into making this thing work.
Administrator Cox: OK.
Mr. Cummings: And showing us how much your contribution has been. I wouldn’t have known that if you just didn’t tell me that (note, it is not explicitly mentioned in any of the project plans or meeting agenda packet documents) And I’ll have more comfort voting for something where I see all the effort that’s been made both by developer and by the Village.
Administrator Cox: OK.
Mr. Cummings: So maybe I should get you a copy?
Mr. Mann: No, I understand.
Mr. Cummings: It’s a simple concept.
Mr. Mann: No, I Understand what you’re talking about very similar to what we did in the Delafield TID.  And I don’t know the Sussex one but I understand.
Mr. Cummings: Yes and I remember the Delafield TID, you’re talking about the residential multi-family?
Mr. Mann: Yeah.
Mr. Cumminngs: That’d be very good.
Mr. Mann: OK.
Mr. Cummings: That would also go a long way, you know when we go back to our respective boards etc. it goes a long way to illustrating…(interuppted)
Ms. Tassermann: That its more of a partnership.
Mr. Cummings: Particularily if I’m hearing that, you know, the developers paying 2 million for you know 1.3 million assessed, but then there were also a lot of costs that are going in by the Village and the developer in preparing, already preparing the properties.
Mr. Mann: And there are some extraordinary costs in doing the development as its laid out.  And that’s, you know, you’ve got, you’ve got costs for the underground parking, so I mean basically you’re paying for density.

Yes indeed, it would have gone a long way towards explaining the total costs that were going into the project at the upcoming Public Hearings on June 4, 2015 and June 22, 2015 if the Village had included the three columns: Developer Costs (not including TIF District eligible costs), Village Costs (not including TIF District eligible costs) and TIF District Costs, on the project costs table — as Mr. Cummings suggested — and listed the $415,487 it paid back in 2009 for the two parcels it gave McCormick as part of Village costs.  But, apparently, Administrator Cox, President Lamerand and Jim Mann didn’t want to go the long way and the table (Version 2 shown above) was not updated per Mr. Cummings’ recommendation prior to distribution at the Public Hearings.

Joint Architecture and Plan Commission Meeting and Public Hearing June 4, 2015

What bothers me is that the $415,487 paid for the two properties was expensed to TIF District 4, and that gift was never mentioned as part of the incentives offered to McCormick to develop the Hartland Riverwalk Apartments during the Public Hearing for the Project Plan for TIF District 6 that was held by the Joint Architecture and Plan Commission at their June 4, 2015 meeting.  Village Board President Dave Lamerand ran the meeting and Administrator Cox and Jim Mann made the presentation, which you can listen to here.  There were two relevant resolutions on the agenda: Reduce the number of parcels in TIF District 4 and create TIF District 6.

Administrator Cox began:

Because TIF District 4 is in a negative increment, that is, since it was created in 2008 it has lost value,  the proposal here in front of the Plan Commission at this moment is to reduce the size of TIF district 4.

Now, imagine you were one of the “public” present and you’re not an accountant and you haven’t read Wisconsin Statute 66.1105 recently and you’re scratching your head and thinking, ‘man, that sounds bad — it’s in a negative increment‘.  Unfortunately, no one present asked what a “negative increment” was, or how they had reached that conclusion, and no explanation or documentation was offered.  I tried to figure it out and found that it is not based on assessed values, rather, it is based on an arcane concept called equalized value.  The Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) calculates the equalized values for all the TIF Districts in the State and you can find the value increments for Hartland’s TIF District 4 in the links provided at the bottom of this DOR website.

TIF District 4 Value Increments
2009 (5,069,200)
2010 (13,896,200)
2011 (14,663,800)
2012 (4,996,900)
2013 (708,700)
2014 (389,600)
2015 503,800

On page 1-17 of the WISCONSIN’S EQUALIZED VALUES document it says:

The Equalized Value is the estimated value of all taxable real and personal property in each taxation district, by class of property, as of January 1, and certified by DOR on August 15 of each year

We can see from the table above that TIF District 4 was trending towards a positive increment i.e., like real estate all over the country, it was slowly recovering value from the 2008 financial crisis, and had, in fact, attained a positive increment as of the January 1, 2015 DOR estimate.  This precedes any amendment made to TIF District 4 by the Village in 2015.  This information should have been documented and explained during any discussion about the “negative increment” at the Public Hearings, Village Board meetings and JRB meetings, but it was not.  The notion that TIF District 4 was in a “negative position/increment” was a red herring.  (Please note that I found out on July 29, 2016 that the preliminary values for the current year are not made available by DOR until August 1, giving municipalities a chance to review them before certification.   The final numbers are certified on August 15 and then published on their website.  So, technically speaking, TIF District 4 was in a negative increment at the time Administrator Cox made his presentations.)

Even The Buckthorn Man can understand assessed values, so, just for comparison, let’s take a look at the parcels in TIF District 4 from that perspective.  Two parcels (HAV 0729004 and HAV 0729005) that were eventually transferred to TIF District 6, were appraised lower in 2009, resulting in the “negative value increment” of -$104,100 in 2009.   And in 2009, the Village purchased HAV 0424032 and HAV 0424033, also destined for transfer to TIF District 6, thus removing them from the tax rolls and resulting in a deeper “negative value increment” of -$427,000 in 2010.  Using the commonly understood measure of assessed value, we can see that TIF District 4 had achieved a “positive value increment” by 2013 (assessed values from Waukesha County Government).TIF4AssessedValues
Administrator Cox goes on to say:
So that’s the basics of the proposal that is under consideration tonight.  There’s really no change in the project plan, with the one exception of modifying the expenses in the district, which is shown on … (Jim interjects “page 10”) .. on page 10 of the plan, we have some copies of the plan around if somebody wants to see them.  But basically page 10 of the plan shows the project expenses as they were in the original project plan, ahh, the anticipated, the plan there, the the adjustment there will be to bring those down to the actual expenses of the district, which are right around $600,000 and show that that’s the end of the expenditures.  As you see there is a little footnote underneath the table that says there aren’t any anticipated additional expenditures because we’re done with the district and we’re reducing its size to the only parcel that’s been redeveloped or going to be redeveloped.    So that’s the basics.  Jim, I don’t know if there anything more really to add.

They may have been “done with the district”, but they weren’t done expensing the two parcels mentioned above, which were still carried on the books as property for resale at $143,000.  Ryan Bailey explained it to me in an email:

Both of these properties were purchased in 2009 for a total of $415,487 (the sum of $221,383.49 and $194,103.51)…then the houses on these properties were demolished leaving a total value of $143,200 (the sum of $78,800 and $64,400).  So in 2009, TIF #4 recognized expense of $272,287 and held an asset of property for resale of $143,200.  Then in 2015 when TIF #6 was created and the property was transferred over to the developer, the Village recognized the remaining $143,200 expense in TIF #4.

I think it dawned on Administrator Cox and Mr. Mann, or maybe someone whispered in their ears, that they were forgetting, or neglecting, to recognize the additional $143,000 of expense that was soon to be charged to TIF District 4.  We can see this reflected in the update they made to the TIF District 4 Costs table on page 14 between the 5/26/15 and 6/22/15 versions of the table (The Buckthorn Man thinks the land deal with McCormick went down sometime between 5/27/15 and 6/22/15 and that is why the Cash Flow Projection table was updated).

Here is the 5/26/15 version of the table on page 14 of the TIF District 4 Project Plan, distributed at the June 4, 2015 Joint Architecture and Plan Commission Public Hearing, and note the beginning deficit balance of (494,471).

TIFDistrict4CashFlow5-26-2015VersionThen, prior to the Village Board meeting and Public Hearing scheduled for June 22, 2015, they updated the table and note the new beginning deficit balance of (637,671), which reflects the recognition of an additional $143,200 of expense — the carrying costs for the two parcels of Village land.


The transfer or conveyance, euphemisms for GIFT in this case, of the two Village owned parcels to McCormick was not explicitly referenced in any documents made available by the Village until it released the PLANNED UNIT DEVELOPMENT AND TAX INCREMENTAL DISTRICT AGREEMENT for TIF District 6 in the Meeting Agenda Packet for the June 22, 2015 Village Board Meeting.  Unfortunately, the draft of this document dated June 10, 2015 was not distributed at the Public Hearing on June 4, 2015.

Dave handed off to Jim Mann and he elaborated:

You really said everything I was going to say.  Basically the reduction would allow a greater amount of increment to be generated in the tax increment district.  And, cashflow wise, at the end of tax increment district, it probably will not recoup all of the dollars that were expended, but you have a better chance of coming close to recouping those dollars by shrinking it and removing those properties that have lost value.  So the true increment can flow back to the district to recoup those costs.

Neither Dave or Jim was willing to tell the public in straight forward, simple language, that the Village was giving two parcels that it had paid $415,487 for back in 2009 to McCormick as part of the TIF District 6 deal.  They did not explain the arcane concepts of negative/positive increments or equalized values and they did not reveal that TIF District 4 had already recovered to a positive increment as of January 1, 2015.  They did not provide any documentation supporting the notion that there would be a greater amount of tax increment if all the properties except two were removed.  Did they consider only removing the 5 parcels they wanted to transfer to TIF District 6 and leaving all of the other parcels in TIF District 4; a course of action which probably would have recouped all of TIF District 4’s expenses given the overall recovery of equalized values in the district?  (When The Buckthorn Man read this post, he chided me for being so naive.  He explained that the Village didn’t care a whit if TIF District 4 recouped the costs attributed to it; there are no ramifications to the Village if TIF District 4 closes out with a deficit. The 17 properties removed from TIF District 4, and not transferred to TIF District 6, would all resume contributing a portion of their tax revenue to the 5 overlying taxing jurisdictions; they wouldn’t have to wait until TIF District 4 paid off it’s $649,220 deficit.  That is why the Joint Review Board had no problem with the Amendment to TIF District 4.  And the Village would also be able to resume using its share of tax revenue from the 17 parcels immediately without having to apply any of it to repay the TIF District 4 deficit).  In case you are curious, here is a list of the parcels in TIF District 4, from the Project Plan, with the 5 properties destined for TIF District 6 highlighted toward the bottom, and the last two parcels being the only ones to remain in the amended TIF District 4 (click image to view full size).


President Lamerand asked for comments from the public and there were none.

Then they moved on to the TIF District 6 creation resolution, which, again you can listen to here.  In a nutshell, they describe the $530,000 up front cash grant they are going to give to McCormick and the $1.2 million they are going to provide McCormick for the purchase of the two remaining properties in the new district (HAV 0729004 and HAV 0729005).  They explain that this is being done so that McCormick could get an “acceptable” rate of return.  And what is that rate?  They don’t tell “the public”, and no one asks at the Public Hearing, but we found out from the Joint Review Board that it is 13%.

So, when describing the package being offered to McCormick to proceed with the Riverwalk development, Dave and Jim presented the scary and dubious proposition that TIF District 4 was in a “negative increment”, that removing most of the properties and transferring others to the new TIF District 6 would fix this (if it ain’t broke…), and they left unsaid the important information that there was a cost to the Village of $415,487 it used to buy the two parcels being donated.  There were no questions or comments from the public.

Village Board Meeting and Public Hearing on June 22, 2015

The next step to making the amendment to TIF District 4 and the creation of TIF District 6 a reality was getting the Village Board to sign off; this was accomplished at the Board Meeting on June 22, 2015.  Per the memo Administrator Cox included with the agenda packet regarding TIF District 4:

The District, which is currently in a negative position, will immediately move to a positive increment and is expected to generate tax increment sufficient to cover the loans made through the District and much of the funds expended by the Village in the District’s creation and implementation.

Again, we hear about the “negative position”, an assertion which the DOR data shown above demonstrates was factually inaccurate.  Administrator Cox says that TIF District 4 is going to recover “the loans made through the District and much of the funds expended by the Village…”; a surprising statement given that Jim Mann had indicated at the Public Hearing on June 4 that the district was unlikely to “recoup” its expenses.  And the deficit at the closure of TIF District 4 had grown even worse since then, to $355,213, as shown on the 6/22/2015 version of the Cash Flow table (shown above) presented to the Board.  Nevertheless, given the positive trend in TIF District 4 value increments we saw in the DOR data above, I think the Village would have had the best chance of recouping their expenses if they would have amended TIF District 4 to only transfer out the 5 parcels they wanted to include in TIF District 6, and if they would have transferred the $415,487 cost used to buy the two parcels that were given to McCormick from TIF District 4 to TIF District 6 — where it belonged (see the comment from The Buckthorn Man above regarding the Village’s desire to “fix” TIF District 4).

Administrator Cox goes on to say that McCormick needs a little help if he is going to get the 13% return he needs to secure financing:

The Developer indicated that certain extraordinary costs associated with the project and other factors cause the project not to be economically feasible on its own. After review of the Developer’s costs and expected revenue, it was determined that public support in the form of grants would be appropriate to cause the development and allow the Developer to mitigate some of his risk and to anticipate an acceptable return. Under the terms of the Agreement, the $12 million development will be supported with $1.75 million in TIF funding comprised of $528,000 in grants to cover the immediate cost of utility relocation and installation and related engineering, building demolition, construction of a pedestrian bridge over the Bark River plus an additional $1.22 million to be paid by the Village over time from tax increment proceeds. The agreement would only be executed if TIF District 6 is finally approved and created.

Again, Administrator Cox fails to mention the gift of the two Village parcels, which it purchased at a cost of $415,487 back in 2009, as being part of the deal, or the fact that an additional $143,000 was being expensed to TIF District 4 with the conveyance of these parcels to the developer (see the 6/22/2015 version of TIF District 4 Costs above).  The meeting agenda packet did include the PLANNED UNIT DEVELOPMENT AND TAX INCREMENTAL DISTRICT AGREEMENT, which explained that the two Village properties would be “conveyed” to McCormick, but nobody brought it up.  Nor did Administrator Cox provide any documentation to support the “determination” that public support is “appropriate” and should be provided so that McCormick can get the 13% rate of return he needs.

Both resolutions were passed by the Village Board and there were no questions or comments during the Public Hearing.

Final Approval: Joint Review Board Meeting June 23, 2015

To effect the perfect “getaway”, Village Board President Lamerand, Administrator Cox and Mr. Mann needed to get the Joint Review Board to not only approve the Amendment to TIF District 4 and the Creation of TIF District 6, but also to disband and close out their participation in reviewing both of the TIF Districts.  They had just voted to create TIF District 6 a few minutes earlier — what could possibly go wrong?

You can listen to the meeting here, it’s only 8 minutes long; that’s all the time it took to approve the amendment to TIF District 4, the creation of TIF District 6 and the disbanding of the JRB in regards to both TIF Districts.  So much for due diligence.  After all of their “work” was done and they began to discuss disbanding the Joint Review Board for TIF District 6, Mr. Mann described some pending legislation that would establish standing joint review boards and affect the way TIF Districts are reviewed and audited.  Let’s take a look and see some of what the Legislature did.  Paragraph (a) immediately below is the new language that will become effective on 10-1-16.  The old language is included below that.

(a) Any city that seeks to create a tax incremental district, amend a project plan, have a district’s tax incremental base redetermined under sub. (5) (h), or incur project costs as described in sub. (2) (f) 1. n. for an area that is outside of a district’s boundaries, shall convene a standing joint review board under this paragraph to review the proposal. If a city creates more than one tax incremental district consisting of different overlying taxing jurisdictions, it shall create a separate joint review board for each combination of overlying jurisdictions. The joint review board shall remain in existence for the entire time that any tax incremental district exists in the city with the same overlying taxing jurisdictions as the overlying taxing jurisdictions represented on the standing joint review board.
… (text here common to both versions)
By majority vote, the board may disband following the termination under sub. (7) of all existing tax incremental districts in the city with the same overlying taxing jurisdictions as the overlying taxing jurisdictions represented on the joint review board.
NOTE: Par. (a) is shown as amended eff. 10-1-16 by 2015 Wis. Act 257. Prior to 10-1-16 it reads:
(a) Any city that seeks to create a tax incremental district, amend a project plan, have a district’s tax incremental base redetermined under sub. (5) (h), or incur project costs as described in sub. (2) (f) 1. n. for an area that is outside of a district’s boundaries, shall convene a temporary joint review board under this paragraph, or a standing joint review board under sub. (3) (g), to review the proposal.
… (text here common to both versions)
By majority vote, the board may disband following approval or rejection of the proposal, unless the board is a standing board that is created by the city under sub. (3) (g).

Mr. Cummings responded to Mr. Mann’s summation of the pending changes:

Mr. Cummings: You know I think it’s less than a band-aid.  I mean, my big problem with TIF is there’s nobody, there’s nobody enforcing, enforcement.  There’s stuff going on all over the place and nobody’s enforcing it (my emphasis).  The only way we can enforce it is a lawsuit and obviously that’s not something that anyone would take lightly in doing that, ahhh, I guess it’s better than nothing.

But when I get, I get your reports, I review them.  If I have questions, I call, and I’ve always have gotten responses to my questions.  What’s not working, I think as it was intended back in — when the major revisions were made in the early 80’s — was the audit, that was being done.  I think they thought there would be more things brought to the attention, like if you went over the project costs.  I’ve never heard of an auditor comment that they went over the project costs or anything like that.  Ummm, that’s not happening.  And I don’t think audit firms want to take on that liability.  I’m not sure that they foresaw that.

So unless you, you violate the department of revenue’s whole parcels, or you have more than whatever the percentage is of the Village etc…. The State does nothing.  So it really is almost up to us that are regularly on these things to sort of birddog it (my emphasis).

Administrator Cox: So where does that cause you to land, pardon me?
Mr. Cummings: As far as this?
Administrator Cox: Yeah.
Mr. Cummings: We might as well disband (he says two more words that are unintelligible).”

Then Mr. Cummings moved to disband, President Lamerand seconded — all in favor?  AYE!



The Village is currently building 3 new subdivisions with 2 more in the planning phases, none of which could be considered low income housing.  In an attempt to create some “lower” income (rents start at only $1,000), high density housing,  the Village made a generous explicit offer to JD McCormick, LLC for the Hartland Riverwalk Apartments development of $1.75 million.  Behind the scenes however, hidden from view, occulted, the Village sweetened the deal by giving McCormick two parcels of land, for which it paid $415,487 of the taxpayer’s money — without telling them about this at the Public Hearings — and burying that cost in a TIF District that would never recoup the expense.  Recall Mr. Cummings’ comment regarding the Village’s land gift to the developer at the May 27, 2015 JRB meeting transcribed above: “I wouldn’t have known that if you just didn’t tell me that”.

The shell game involved expensing $415,487 to TIF District 4 — which will never recoup the funds from incremental tax revenue — not TIF District 6, the obvious beneficiary of the land acquisition.  And now, fully a year after the triggering events, the Village has recognized its obligation under the law to produce an audit of TIF District 4.  Will that audit look only at the numbers in the books, or, will it also examine the way the deal went down?  Would the birddogs on the disbanded Joint Review Board be interested in reviewing the audit?

I am done with the Village of Hartland Board, Adminstrator and DPW.  It is clear from their actions that growing the tax base for the Corporation of Hartland is their all consuming goal.  They don’t care about the Village of Hartland’s land at all, except its potential for development.  In my dealings with the Village leadership I have encountered a stubborn refusal on their part to accept responsibility for maintaining all Village land or even to subject themselves to their own ordinances, which they enforce on everyone else in the Village.

I will continue my volunteer work at the Hartland Marsh on the Waukesha County Land Conservancy and Ice Age Trail Alliance properties.



I attended the Village of Hartland Board meeting on July 11, 2016 to explain why I was resigning from the Environmental Corridor and Open Spaces Task Force.  Have a listen.

Watercress River

Watercress River

The Scuppernong River was beginning to remind me of a shaggy dog in desperate need of a trim.  Watercress blanketed the river from bank to bank and bed to billowing flowers overhead.  Way back in 2012 Lindsay and I began pulling watercress from the river — we actually thought we were getting rid of it.  Now I think that would be impossible unless one was willing to apply a huge amount of herbicide.

I pull watercress whenever it reaches the point were it begins to dam the river, which causes the flow to slow way down and the temperature to go up in what is called “thermal pollution”.  I’ve been cautioned by DNR Fisheries Biologist Ben Heussner that the watercress provides cover for the native brook trout and habitat for the macro invertebrates they feed on, so, I’m not trying to get it all out; I just want to see and hear the river flowing freely.ScuppernongRiverWaterCressPullingSites

The Scuppernong River upstream of the Hotel Spring is full of muck and marl that settled there during the 120 years the headwaters were impounded forming the upper and lower ponds.

B097164-R1-06-7_007During the trout farming days back in the 1870’s, three additional embankments were utilized to divide the river upstream of the Emerald Spring.  When the DNR drained the ponds in the early 90’s, they did not dig deep enough at each of the openings created in the embankments and the natural flow of the river remained impeded, trapping muck and marl upstream.  Beginning back in March of 2015, the DNR, along with help from the Southeast Wisconsin Trout Unlimited group and The Buckthorn Man, has begun rectifying this problem by excavating rock, soil and building materials from 4 of the old embankments.

The only thing still holding up the free flow of the river was watercress.  Watercress loves the mucky river bottom and banks and it grows prolifically at The Springs.  I am hoping now, with the embankments excavated and the watercress pulled back, or out, that we’ll finally start to see the Scuppernong River flowing like it used to; and taking some of that muck and marl downstream with it.

I started pulling watercress from the Scuppernong Spring downstream to the first bridge during my recent camping adventure at Ottawa Lake.

IMG_8589Over the last three weeks I have pulled watercress at the Fish Hatchery Springs, Indian Springs, Emerald Springs and the entire stretch of river upstream from there.

The Emerald Spring, the jewel of The Springs, was almost completely covered by watercress.  I still have some work to do at this location…

Then I worked on the stretch of river between the Emerald Spring and the Second Bridge , which is upstream from there (check the map above).

And finally, just yesterday, I finished the last stretch between the first and second bridges.  There is a gurgling rapids just below the first bridge now!

I got in a little garlic mustard pulling, and reed canary grass mowing, at The Springs.

I’ve been busy at the Hartland Marsh as well and was happy to have some help from my friend Mark Mamerow.  We had intended to do our “river rat” thing, and clear downed trees from the Bark River, but the water was too high so we pulled garlic mustard instead.

The GMO miracle!

See you at The Springs!

The Cornfields of Hartland

The Cornfields of Hartland

Where have all the cornfields gone, long time passing?

The Village of Hartland 1937

The Village of Hartland 1937

One “Smart Growth” plan after another over the years has resulted in the elimination of any agricultural land in the Village; the Sanctuary of Hartland being the last to undergo the zoning alchemy.   Local developers know that the Village will be more than happy to annex any neighboring land to add another subdivision, as we saw with Four Winds West and Windrush.  The Corporation needs to survive and what better way to do it than by increasing the municipal tax base.  To that end, a large part of the Village bureaucracy appears to be dedicated to the care and nurture of subdivision developers.

Yet, if you recall the analysis I did of the Village of Hartland Comprehensive Development Plan: 2035, the responses to the community surveys that served as the basis for the plan were overwhelmingly for the preservation of natural areas and open spaces.  Given the relentless development that has ensued since the plan was adopted in 2010, and the fact that much of the data referenced in the plan was pre-2000, the Village should honor the commitment they made to review the entire plan within 5 years; not for the purpose of undoing any of the development that has occurred, which would be impossible, but to highlight the need to balance the scales by applying Village resources to the protection and preservation of the environmental corridor and natural spaces.

Since my appointment to the Village’s “Environmental Corridor and Open Spaces Task Force”, I’ve been trying to learn what is actually happening on the lands in the Village.  No less than 5 new subdivision developments have commenced, or significantly advanced, since 2010: Sanctuary of Hartland, Windrush, Homestead, Four Winds West, and the North Forty.

HartlandDevelopmentSmartGrowthPlanThe image above is from the 2009 “Smart Growth” plan in which the Village planners made no secret of their intentions regarding the Sanctuary, Homestead and North Forty subdivisions; Windrush and Four Winds West were just twinkling in the eyes of the developers back then.  Where have all the cornfields gone?  They are still visible on Google Map, but you better hurry as I’m sure it will be updated soon.

HartlandDevelopmentThe Sanctuary of Hartland was farmland before they planted the pine plantation in the 70’s.  You can see the new subdivision plat laid over a 1941 aerial image below.

SanctuaryOfHartlandTo the existing home owners surrounding this area, some of whose homes date back to the 1937 era, this area was literally a sanctuary in their backyards; maybe that is why they showed up at Village Board meetings to protest — in vain.  I haven’t heard of any protests against any of the other new subdivisions, and it will be too late when residents see the new assessments for water and sewer services.

“Unless a productive use can be found for woodlands or other upland open spaces in and around the Village, they may as well be developed.”: 65% strongly disagreed, 27% disagreed.  Comprehensive Development Plan: 2035 Appendix B

Well, that’s the response Hartland residents gave in the community survey and below we see what they got in return:


"Concept Plan for Windrush Subdivision" Jim Siepmann of Siepmann Realty said he expects to have the 57-lot Windrush subdivision built by the end of the year. The subdivision, located south of Highway K near Winkleman Road, is considered part one of a three part development plan.

“Concept Plan for Windrush Subdivision” Jim Siepmann of Siepmann Realty said he expects to have the 57-lot Windrush subdivision built by the end of the year. The subdivision, located south of Highway K near Winkleman Road, is considered part one of a three part development plan.



North Forty

Who am I to question the powers that be?  A nobody, but, isn’t it obvious how out of balance the Village of Hartland is?  After extolling the value and importance of the environment and natural spaces, and the need to protect and preserve them in their Comprehensive Development Plan: 2035, the Village’s Boards, Commissions and Departments have spent relatively little time or resources following through on those goals.  Developing subdivisions is very complicated; it absorbs a lot of attention within the Village Bureaucracy.  Imagine if even a fraction of that effort were dedicated to the environmental corridor — starting with Village owned land?

So, where have all the cornfields gone?  Well, there is still a cornfield in Hartland!

HartlandCornFieldYup, it’s right smack dab in the primary environmental corridor on a parcel of Village Land that is zoned parks and recreation.  Some Village Board members would like to see a Community Center or some other public facility built here.  This has been debated for a long time and the prospects are uncertain.  In the meantime, why not make this land The Hartland Prairie — fitting in with the environmental corridor — instead of The Hartland Cornfield?


The Hartland Cornfield


A living museum


Don’t worry about the weeds; this GMO corn is Roundup ready!

The Village leadership views this parcel as extremely valuable land, and while they try to figure out what to do with it, they have been leasing it to a farmer to grow corn and soybeans — ignoring their own zoning ordinance.  Never mind all the supplicants who appear before the Architecture and Planning Commission and the Village Board to request zoning changes or variances, they rightly fall under the jurisdiction of the Village of Hartland (I love the etymology of that word: jurisdiction, juris/law + diction/to speak  = To Speak the Law).  The law applies to you, not the Village!

Well, I really needed to pull those weeds out of my mind.  Are you still with me?  Thanks!

I’ve been focused on garlic mustard and dames rocket lately.  Here are a few pics from my recent weed pulling adventures at The Hartland Marsh.

Back at The Springs, I had the pleasure of leading a Natural Resources Foundation Hike at The Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail on National Trails Day with Dr. Dan Carter from SEWRPC and special guests Pati Holman and Lindsay Knudsvig.

Later that afternoon, per advice from Dan, I transplanted some roundleaf monkeyflower (Mimulus glabratus) that I had harvested a couple days earlier from Mckeawn Spring and Bluff Creek to the spring just below the Scuppernong Spring.

I hope the transplants root!

Then I went to the Indian Spring to pull watercress and plant some more roundleaf monkeyflower.  It would be great if we could replace the invasive, non-native, watercress with a native plant like roundleaf monkeyflower.

Some parting shots from The Springs and Ottawa Lake.

See you at The Springs!

The Curse of Garlic Mustard

The Curse of Garlic Mustard

Once you know a thing, there is no unknowing it.  Unfortunately for me, I became aware of the negative impact of garlic mustard, and around this time of year I feel compelled to try to stop it’s spread.  I wish I had more time to garden in our woods and wetlands!

After all these years pulling and cutting garlic mustard, you’d think I might be an expert on it, but I just learned from my good friend, Lindsay Knudsvig, that the seeds of garlic mustard form in what are called siliques.

1330040This is empowering information as I was previously focused only on the flowering garlic mustard i.e., preventing the flowers from maturing by cutting or pulling the plants.  Now, my garlic mustard fighting season will continue so long as I can locate and collect the siliques.

I recently spent three days pulling and mowing at the Ottawa Lake Fen SNA.  Check out this gallery of garlic mustard horrors.

I’m not using any herbicide on the garlic mustard and actually seeing very positive results just cutting and pulling.  Hand pulling is definitely the best way to go when the garlic mustard is nestled in among native plants.  I pulled the garlic mustard from the area around the Scuppernong Spring.IMG_8636

In the areas where it is carpeting the ground, like shown above, mowing is great option.  Either way, eradicating invasive plants is a wonderful way to spend time in nature.  Check out these morels I stumbled upon while pulling garlic mustard at the Hartland Marsh.

Last Saturday I was joined by Arrowhead High School Instructor Greg Bisbee, and a group of young people from the school, along with Marsha and Jeff from The Friends of the Hartland Marsh, for a garlic mustard pulling party.  We worked along the hillside at the Cottonwood Gazebo and north, across the village corn field, on the Waukesha County Land Conservancy property.

IMG_2239IMG_2242IMG_2244There is a long way to go in the battle against garlic mustard!

I spent a wonderful week camping at site #335, my favorite spot at the Ottawa Lake Campground.  Thanks to Jim, Bob and Mark for stopping by to play some guitar and enjoy the campfire.

We have been pulling spotted knapweed and cutting out brush from the lupine fields on the west slope of the sand prairie for 3-4 years now.  Nature is responding and in a few years the whole hillside will be covered with lupine!

I’m a point and shoot photographer and hope someday to learn how to use my camera.  Until then…

See you at The Springs!

Village of Hartland Creates Environmental Corridor Task Force

Village of Hartland Creates Environmental Corridor Task Force

Merriam-Webster defines Infidelity primarily as: a lack of belief in a religion, while Dictionary Dot Com defines it primarily as: marital disloyalty; adultery, and doesn’t mention religion until its third meaning.   I like Thomas Paine’s definition of the word in The Age of Reason, which presumes a Common Sense usage per its infidel root:

Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.

And he goes on to say:

It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society.

Words like these force me to face the contradictions between my own thoughts and actions.  “My own mind is my own church.“, Paine said, and for me, there is discord in the sanctuary.

I profess to not believe in government — the idea that anyone has a right to rule another, whether asserted via physical violence or “legal authority”.  I refer you to my Freedom post for more on the true meanings of the words freedom, anarchy and government.  I put my ideals into practice challenging the jurisdiction of the cops, prosecutors and judges to threaten my liberty and property in their traffic courts.  You can listen to the blow by blow of my courtroom battles and armchair analysis by the masters of The No State Project chat room via this youtube playlist.

Our national government is a disgrace and those who believe in The State‘s right to rule us have empowered a monster, the reigns of which are held firmly by a financial oligarchy via: their ubiquitous, privately owned, central banking cartels; their Trilateral Commission, Council on Foreign Relations, Bilderberg Group, Royal Institute of International Affairs and other globalist organizations; their technocrats at the UN, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization and various think tanks; their control of the education system; their control of the mainstream media; and their muscle in the CIA, NSA, MI5, MI6 and their ilk in the interconnected, world-wide “intelligence” and “security” web.

Indeed, the words of Thomas Paine: “THESE are the times that try men’s souls.”, ring as true today as they did back during the crisis of December 23, 1776.  Crimes like the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy are covered up leading to even more heinous crimes like the Iran Contra scandal, the 9/11 false flag attack and the 2008 Wall Street crash.  There is no morality, justice or accountability in government; rather, government is simply a tool, implemented and supported — often with religious fervor — by its true believers, and used by the elites to control the masses.

Yet, despite all this, I am working closely with the government of the Village of Hartland to try and preserve and protect the woodlands and wetlands within their “jursidiction”.  I profess to not believe in government while working hand in glove with people who assert they are “the government”.   Is this not infidelity?  How can I work with something I don’t even believe in?


This grandmother oak at the Hartland Marsh never fails to inspire me!

In an appearance before the Village of Hartland Board back in January, I  pointed out how The Board was not honoring the will of the people — or their own will for that matter — as expressed in the Comprehensive Development Plan 2035, that they adopted back in 2010.  Using aerial photographs spanning 1941 to 2015, I showed them what was happening to village land at Penbrook Park, hoping it would stir them to action.  I have mixed emotions when I report that, at the Village Board meeting on May 9th, they approved a “Resolution creating an Environmental Corridor and Open Space Task Force“.  I will be serving on the task force and I sincerely hope that we can produce a right, powerful, creative and liberating recommendation.  Amen.

Well, with that unresolved contradiction in the church of The Buckthorn Man laid bare, it’s time to see what that hypocrite has been up to!

Way back on April 21 I made a bold move to squeeze in one more day of buckthorn cutting and burning at the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail.  I was determined to finish clearing the northern edge of a little wetland just north of the marl factory ruins.  The ground was wet and I kept the fires relatively small.  (Note, click any picture in any of the galleries to open them full size and read the accompanying text.)

On April 22, Pati and I joined Ben and Karen Johnson at the Milwaukee River Keepers Annual Spring River Cleanup event, where we worked on the stretch of the Menomonee River between Burliegh Street and Hwy 100.  Ben and Karen organized the volunteers on our segment (Thanks!).  Pati and I worked on pulling garbage from a log jam just downstream from where the Menomonee River passes under Hwy 100, and I had one of those delicious moments where I just knew I was in the right place at the right time doing the right thing.

On April 25, I joined Herb Sharpless, Maggie Zoellner, Gerry Peterson and others from the Kettle Moraine Land Trust and the Elkhorn Area High School on a workday at the Island Woods Preserve.  This beautiful property is right in Herb’s back yard!


Herb has been involved in protecting and preserving the waters of the Lauderdale Lakes area since the 1980s.  During a guided tour of the property after the workday, he taught me a lot about how to use government to accomplish good of everyone.  Yes, I know, how can I say that… We had a very productive workday with the young people from the Elkhorn Area High School.  Herb does a great job summarizing the day in the short document linked here.

On April 30, I joined the force of the Kiwanis of Hartland, led by Dave Cox, and we worked on a short stretch of the Bark River in downtown Hartland between Capitol Drive and Haight Street.  I thoroughly enjoyed working with this group!  The Village of Hartland Department of Public Works complimented the effort by hauling all the brush away.

Pati and I got way  for a little anniversary break at Newport Beach State Park up in Door County.  We camped at sites 14 & 15 and delivered our gear there via canoe — a first for us.

newportIt was beautiful, but so cold in the morning that my left hand literally became numb as I was preparing breakfast.  I could not pinch my thumb and any other finger together with enough strength to hold a feather.  An old skiing injury come back to haunt me.

And last, but not least, I pitched in on the first cooperative event between the Ice Age Trail Alliance and the Village of Hartland since the village became the first “Ice Age Trail Community” in the state.  Pat Witkowski pulled it all together and organized a brush clearing workday with some young people from The Hartland School of Community Learning.  We worked in an area along the Ice Age Trail just east of where it crosses Cottonwood Ave.  The kids hauled a lot of brush out of there and again, the Village of Hartland DPW picked it all up.

Stay tuned for more adventures of The Buckthorn Man.

See you at The Springs!

Wild Refuge

Wild Refuge

The skies over South Africa were surprisingly natural, absent the chemtrail/contrail graffiti that mars our views here in the states.  The spin of the earth feels different; when facing north, the sun and moon rise before you on your right and set on your left.  The southern cross replaces the big dipper as the key directional landmark in the night sky.  You’re closer to the ozone hole and the sun can burn you very quickly.


I’m glad I got a chance to see a little bit of it thanks to Pati’s work with special needs children.  We stayed and worked in a quiet suburb of Johannesburg across the street from the Botanical Gardens, where all the homes are surrounded by 8′ walls topped with razor wire and electric fence.  Pati booked a safari at the Pilanesberg National Park and we stayed at the Shepherd’s Tree Game Lodge.   I’m a student of history and the legacy of Cecil Rhodes and the British Empire was always on my mind as I soaked in the sites and sounds of this complex country.

When we got home, Pati and I went on a little safari of our own at the Ottawa Wildlife Refuge.  This is one of the gems owned by the Waukesha Land Conservancy and it encompasses restored prairies, wetlands and mature oak woodlands.  We parked at the entrance on Hwy ZC and walked the yellow two-track trail to explore the landscape.

Ottawa Wildlife Refuge- trails