September 30, 2009
'Building on success': Mayor seeks millions for clean beaches center
Mayor John Dickert is pursuing a multi-million dollar water research laboratory that will build on Julie Kinzelman's work in cleaning up Racine's beaches.
The new clean beaches center would give Kinzelman a $2 million to $3 million laboratory and training facility for her work, Dickert said. He hopes the city can build the facility entirely with federal money. The federal government has committed $5 billion to the Great Lakes and recently released $475 million for clean water programs. Dickert, a former lobbyist, is traveling to Washington D.C. in October to fight for the money. (He has a location in mind for the center, but declined to say where because the city doesn't own the land.)
Dickert said he's pursuing the consortium for two reasons:
1. To keep Kinzelman happy. She's traveling to Ireland soon to lead a seminar on clean beaches (just her latest international presentation) and is well-known throughout the Great Lakes region for her ground-breaking work. Many other cities and organizations would love to lure her away from Racine. Dickert said he won't let that happen.
2. It's a chance for Racine to "build on its success," Dickert said. Clean freshwater is poised to become a major industry and Racine's location on Lake Michigan creates a great opportunity to become a leader in that industry, Dickert said. A laboratory focusing on Kinzelman's work would be a good start, he said. Dickert noted Kinzelman is traveling to Ireland in a few weeks to lead a seminar on beach sciences. If Racine had a world-class facility, it could bring scientists from around the world into the city.
"This might be the way to keep her," Dickert said of Kinzelman. "She deserves her own center."
On a wider scale, Dickert said a clean beaches center would be an example of the city building on its strengths. Racine, thanks to Kinzelman, is already an international leader on cleaning up beaches. Now, it needs to turn that work into opportunities.
"She's the best in the world. Why wouldn't I build on that?" Dickert said.
Kinzelman, who works in the city's Health Department, would use the new building to continue research on cleaning up beaches and to train interns and water quality scientists from around the world on water quality issues, Dickert said.
It's a natural extension of Kinzelman's world-renown work. She's considered an international expert in cleaning up beaches, with Racine's beaches as the best example of her work. Racine's North and Zoo beaches didn't closed this summer because of poor water quality, which is a major change from 10 years ago when the beaches were frequently closed by high bacteria counts. It's also far better performance than beaches in Milwaukee and Kenosha have shown in recent years.
Kinzelman is a leader in the use of "fast-track" testing methods that return water-quality results in as little as four hours. Previous tests, which took three days, did little to determine if beach water was safe for swimming because they returned results after the fact. Long lag times meant beaches were open when water was a health risk and potentially closed when the water was clear.
She also helped clean Racine's beach water by working with other departments to groom sand differently, to clean up water runoff, to ban dogs and feeding seagulls at the beach and to plant native grasses that help clean up water runoff. The result: Racine's beach water was so clean this summer it qualified as drinking water.
Racine's clean beaches has had a significant economic impact. Pro volleyball and an elite triathlon came to the city because of its beaches. The North Beach Oasis has also thrived and a few small businesses renting recreational water and beach equipment cropped up this year.
With water an increasingly valuable commodity, Kinzelman's research may be Racine's best shot at creating a high-tech industry and attracting new jobs and businesses.