Susan Bence

Environmental Reporter

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.

Susan is now WUWM's environmental reporter, the station's first. Her work has been recognized by the Milwaukee Press Club, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, and the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association.

Susan worked with Prevent Blindness Wisconsin for 20 years, studied foreign languages at UWM, and loves to travel.

Ways to Connect

Susan Bence

Many Milwaukeeans now know that approximately 70,000 older homes in Milwaukee have lead service lines, meaning lead could be mixing with tap water.

Mayor Tom Barrett suggested a couple months ago that people living in homes built before 1951 filter their drinking water.

On Monday, local leaders announced the first steps in making Barrett’s suggestion a reality. The commissioner of the Milwaukee Health Department Bevan Baker made the announcement.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for breakwaters around the country, including the Great Lakes.  

The structures calm the waters within them to allow ships and smaller vessels to navigate safely, but take quite a beating, given shifting lake levels and seasonal storms.   

The usual "fix" is to install big boulders, 6 to 10-feet in size, to reinforce failing stretches of breakwater.

President Obama has called climate change a slow-moving catastrophe, yet we’ve heard little about the issue during this campaign season.

That goes for the U.S. Senate race pitting Democrat Russ Feingold and GOP incumbent Ron Johnson. Their campaigns have sizzled around their disparate views on just about everything else - from job creation to immigration.

Yet, they have said little about how they would approach the subject of climate change.

Dairy farmer Lloyd Holterman likes where Johnson stands on issues.

Susan Bence

Are Milwaukee area rail lines becoming safer? One of the potentially hazardous loads some people worry about is crude oil. Trains carry up to 14 loads a week through the heart of the city.

Although Milwaukee has been accident-free, other U.S. and Canadian cities have not. Some citizens fear it’s just a matter of time because Milwaukee’s rail lines and bridges are old.

Andy Cummings of Canadian Pacific says his rail company stands ready to assist communities. CP’s “dangerous goods” officers train local first responders.

Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

Trains rumble through downtown Milwaukee on a daily basis. Each week, up to 14 of them haul crude oil.

While the city has not experienced any accidents with those tankers, there have been disasters elsewhere, both in the U.S. and Canada.

We wondered, is Milwaukee making progress in protecting the area from a potential accident?

Ask Cheryl Nenn of the group Milwaukee Riverkeeper - her answer is an unequivocal no.

Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

Lake Michigan is experiencing high water levels. That phenomenon has turned the lives of some people living along its western shore upside down. Huge chunks are eroding, and dozens of homeowners are watching their property slip away at alarming rates.

Randy Vassh is working along a stretch of lakefront homes in the Village of Caledonia, maneuvering his excavator in tandem with his co-worker. The huge machines operate in three feet of water and stretch mechanical arms 30 feet out into Lake Michigan. They scoop up huge rocks and place them back along shore to slow erosion.

Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

Gross. Annoying. Ugly. But, illegal? This week, WUWM's Bubbler Talk answers the question: Is littering by throwing cigarette butts legal in Milwaukee? 

The City of Milwaukee has had an ordinance on the books since 1999. But according to a spokesperson, “To the best of our collective [Department of Public Works] knowledge, we have not issued any citations for cigarette butt littering.”

More than a century ago, the Boundary Waters Treaty established an advisory group made up of representatives from the United States and Canada. The International Joint Commission, it was tasked with preventing and resolving disputes over the use of the waters shared by the two countries.

Today, a primary function of the IJC is to report – to both the U.S. and Canada - how effectively the two countries are restoring and protecting the Great Lakes.

Susan Bence

This month, Boerner Botanical Gardens in Milwaukee’s Whitnall Park has taken on an exotic look. The visiting display called China Lights covers eight acres of the gardens. At night the display lights up.

The welcome gate pulls you through a world lined with peach trees. Just ahead flowers sparkle in a sunken garden. Turn your head to discover colorful lotus fairies, turn another direction and pandas at play appear.

And you’ve barely seen anything – including the 22-foot tall dragon.
 

Artist Ziming Luo created the show.

Susan Bence

This year's Milwaukee Film Fest will feature the documentary Almost Sunrise, which chronicles the journey of two Milwaukee area natives as they struggle with deep emotional scars after tours of duty in Iraq.

Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson set off from the Milwaukee County War Memorial on October 30, 2013 to walk across the country.

Susan Bence

Saturday one thousand baby sturgeon will be released along the shore of Lake Michigan. The event is a part of a 25 year partnership between Riveredge Nature Center and the Wisconsin DNR.

The ancient fish was once plentiful here, but by the turn of the last century its numbers had plummeted.

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The Milwaukee Film Festival includes a whole series of films with Wisconsin themes or made by Wisconsinites. That includes a film called From Mass to the Mountain, which features the environmental work of a priest from Ripon, dubbed Padre Pablo by the people he helps in Panama.

Susan Bence

Brooks Niedziejko has always loved fishing for carp and there’s plenty to fish. A number of Wisconsin’s 15,000 lakes are challenged by the prolific reproducer.

Common carp are not native, but have been swimming here for years. Europeans prized carp as a game fish, so they brought it along when settling in America.

LaToya Dennis

During his budget address Monday, Mayor Tom Barrett’s says replacing lead laterals of 70,000 homes would cost $770 million.

Barrett calls his proposed 2017 budget a starting point of his commitment to full removal, which would include:

-          Allocating  $5.2 million to remove lead lines at 385 day care facilities in 2016-2017.

-          2017 budget includes funding to cover approximately 300 residential lines when they leak or fail.

The story begins with a St. Paul, Minnesota-based family named the Griggs. In the 19th century, the family made a fortune in the lumber industry, allowing the Griggs to acquire a 872-acre estate in Northern Wisconsin, called Forest Lodge.

The Griggs’s enjoyment of their oasis on the shores of Lake Namekagon stretched across three generations. In 1999, the Lodge’s final direct heir, Mary Griggs Burke, donated the estate to The Trust for Public Land.

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