Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Barrett Takes A Hit Over Regionalism and Sprawl, But The Criticism is One-Sided

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett took a hit in a Wednesday Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial over remarks last week on the region's water debate.

Specifically, he told a group of Great Lakes policy activists that it was important to adopt pending procedural amendments to the Great Lakes Compact that govern how and when water may be diverted away from the Great Lakes basin.

And he said that diverted water should not be used to fuel suburban sprawl - - a reasonable argument, since he is the Mayor of the only municipality in the state forbidden by state law to grow through annexation.

And Mayor of a municipality in which low-income people require and expect public services - - costs that most of the Milwaukee suburbs do not have to bear.

The editorial implies only Milwaukee and Barrett are off the regional cooperation bandwagon with regard to water policy and usage.

That is not the case.

Twice last year, the Waukesha Water Utility, an arm of the City of Waukesha with a governing commission that includes its Mayor, had consulting attorneys confidentially ask Governor Jim Doyle to administratively approve permission for Waukesha to pipe in up to 24 million gallons of water daily from Lake Michigan.

Those requests also argued that Waukesha not be required to return that water to the Great Lakes basin; the proposed amendments to the Great Lakes Compact - - a collaborative arrangement - - require precisely that as a basic conservation principle.

To maintain the Great Lakes as a regional, shared resource. And not tapped into through back-door machinations.

These requests to Doyle, rejected (so far), were made at the same time that Daniel Duchniak, the utility's general manager, was sitting on a regional advisory committee working up regional water policy recommendations at SEWRPC - - the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

But the Waukesha entreaties to Doyle were not disclosed at those advisory committee meetings.

(Nor did the New Berlin representative tell the SEWRPC committee that New Berlin had sent an actual diversion application into the Great Lakes Compact review process - - yet there was ample opportunity for such disclosure because both the SEWRPC committee and New Berlin employ the same consultant - - Ruekert/Mielke - - that wrote the New Berlin application and is researching and framing the SEWRPC water study.)

Duchniak is also a member of a state legislative committee meeting in Madison that is working up draft state legislation to approve and implement the amended Great Lakes Compact in Wisconsin.

But Waukesha's confidential communications to Doyle were not sent to the committee until the documents had been obtained through an Open Records request and posted on the Internet.

At the legislative study committee in Madison, State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) and the Metropolitan Builders Association representative are raising multiple objections to Wisconsin adopting the Compact with the proposed diversion procedures intact.

Those procedures have to be adopted by all eight Great Lakes states uniformly; any state balking at or substantially changing them could blow up the amendments and the existing agreement, setting off a water diverting free-for-all across and beyond the Great Lakes region.

You can read Lazich's memos and other documentation, and hear the committee discussion here.

So who is cooperating in the region with regard to water and sprawl and sustainable, sensitive development, and who is not?

(For the record, Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson supports adopting the Compact, and does not want it torpedoed; the Waukesha Chamber of Commerce opposes the eight-state diversion approval procedure.)

The reality is, then, that powerful Waukesha-area politicians and businesses are operating and politicking in their self-defined self-interests, or on behalf of constituents.

That's because they see those interests and priorities as valid - - and distinct and different from those in the City of Milwaukee.

Barrett sees the situation as the opposite, and he should. He's the Mayor of Milwaukee.

It's too early to say whether any applications for water diversion beyond the boundaries of Lake Michigan and Great Lakes basin to suburbs will be allowed.

And if they are, whether the City of Milwaukee will be a seller of water, and, if so, what the payment program will entail.

And who will pay for the additional infrastructure in both the selling and receiving communities for both the supply of water, and for its return for treatment?

Waukesha is facing big capital costs for sure if it wins a diversion, but has anyone asked the Milwaukee Metropolitcan Sewerage District (MMSD) if it can handle a large new influx of sewage for treatment from Waukesha, assuming that's where the sewage treatment would occur?

And it is known in Milwaukee's City Hall that Milwaukee's water system pumps are insufficient to push water over the subcontinental divide to either New Berlin or Waukesha.

Who will cover that projected multi-million dollar cost (the number $4-8 million has been floated) if New Berlin or Waukesha wins a diversion?

Milwaukee taxpayers? New Berlin's? Waukesha's?

Is it a regional cost?

Oh, boy: wait for the reaction when anyone suggests that regionalism requires that kind of taxpayer spending!

There has been discussion - - if diversions are permitted - - about adding to the per-gallon water payment to a selling community like Milwaukee an additional sum, called "tax-base sharing."

That would entail calculating the value that diverted water adds through suburban development to the suburban tax base (call it growth, call it sprawl) and then agreeing on the percentage of that added value that will accompany payment for the water.

What's fair? What's negotiable? What will the suburbs live with and what will the city accept: 1%? 5%? 50%?

Think that putting dollars behind water sales, in other words, actually financing regionalism with real bucks, potentially in added multi-millions - - acknowledging that Lake Michigan water has measurable value to be shared with Milwaukee - - is something that those TABOR-friendly suburbanites will support?

Not long ago, an attorney working under contract for the Waukesha Water Utility wrote a memo to the utility that said favorable things about tax-base sharing, and suggested that it could help New Berlin politically win a diversion from Milwaukee.

The utility excoriated the attorney for writing the memo, said the memo hadn't been requested, said its subject matter did not fall into her contract duties, and rejected the billing for the memo ( a partial payment was eventually negotiated).

So regional cooperation is hardly simple.

And it's more than Milwaukee and Tom Barrett raising questions about regionalism, its language and goals.

Regionalism is a two-way street (and the regional transportation issue that is so imtimately tied to water and sprawl - - well, that's a subject for a different posting later).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think this region would be hard pressed to find another mayor that has done more for regionalism that Mayor Barrett. Whether it's the Milwaukee 7, KRM or anything else Barrett has shown himself to be open and honest. Let's face it, he is the Mayor of Milwaukee and he has a responsibility to represent his constituents. This stinks of the journal trying to keep their suburban readers happy at the expense of Milwaukee. Thankfully, someone like you is able to see past this and shed some light on the situation.