Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Peek Behind The Curtain: Public Information Session On Waukesha Water Planning

Call it a semi-hearing/open house of sorts: Waukesha officials, hard at work behind the scenes on an application for a Lake Michigan water diversion, will show some of their taxpayer-paid hand Monday, at 7 p.m., in the Common Council chambers in City Hall.

The address is 201 Delafield St.

More details, here.

I say semi-hearing/open house - - a variation on the less-than-full-public participation model favored by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation when it rolls out a highway 'plan' for 'input' that is really an inch or two from full implementation - - because the Waukesha format works this way:

Officials make their presentation.

Questions are taken from members of the Water Utility Commission and Common Council.

Written questions are taken from the audience, giving officials control of the dialogue.

Waukesha officials say that there will be more public meetings and hearings...later.

That's true, but by that time, the decision to file the application will be further set in stone, and the impact of public participation will be further diminished.

Officials also stress that their application for Lake Michigan water is in the "potential" phase, but it has had a brace of consultants, lawyers, public relations specialists and city staffers working on one phase or another of the process since 2004.

The application for the diversion, including the return of water to Lake Michigan via the city's treated sewage using Underwood Creek in Wauwatosa, is a foregone conclusion - - made more likely by the willingness of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to accept Waukesha's application without having drafted administrative rules governing what an application will include.

Waukesha has argued that the DNR has done this in other regulatory questions, but you'd think the huge effort extended in the state and across the Great Lakes region for years to produce the Great Lakes Compact, and the significance of protecting the planet's biggest supply of surface freshwater, would have led the DNR to have rules at least in draft form before accepting an application from Waukesha the agency has long known is coming its way.

Remember: Waukesha's application for a diversion outside of the Great Lakes basin will be the first of its kind under the Compact - - an eight state agreement with two Canadian provinces that has also been approved by the US Congress and signed by the President.

The DNR's refusal to write basic rules for such diversion applications will not sit well with the seven other Great Lakes states that also have to approve Waukesha's application.

For Waukesha, it's knowingly rolling the dice.

For the DNR, it's precedent-setting benign neglect for a precedent-setting water diversion.

I expect to hear some palliatives parsed among the platitudes about this, among others, come Monday.


Betsey said...

Amen, Brother Jim. You're spot-on, as usual.

Jim Bouman said...

These people are shameless.

The press release was dated Wednesday, Oct. 7.

It is now 7:00 PM on Thursday October 8.

There is no notice posted on the City of Waukesha Web Site.

There is no notice posted on the Water Utility Web Site.

It is possible that it will be covered by The Waukesha Freeman and/or Milwaukee Journal Sentinel before the weekend. But these are low circulation rags with a reputation--both of them--for simply processing Utility Commission press releases.

It seems clear that Nelson and his guys on the Water Utility Commission intended to give only the barest minimum of notice required by the Open Meetings Law.

And the Mayor's use of the press release as a platform for singing the praises of his scheme is typical Nelson grandstanding.

One can be certain that Nelson will overstep--as usual--his parliamentary obligation to Chair the Monday meeting objectively.

In the past meetings he has hogged the microphone, entered into the debate, and made decisions to ignore and postpone answering questions he didn't like.

The Chair of a public meeting is obligated under the rules of debate and parliamentary procedure to refrain--as the Chair--from taking a position on either side of the question.

When and if the Chairman wants to enter the debate, he is obligated to relinquish the chair and the gavel to someone who will continue to conduct the discussion/debate objectively.