Thursday, July 26, 2007

Foes Of Key Great Lakes Compact Provisions To Gather At Michigan Meeting

There could be more problems ahead for the pending Great Lakes Compact - - a water management and conservation plan that has to be adopted by the eight Great Lakes states' legislatures with identical language already agreed upon by their governors in order to go into effect.

Ohio State Senator Tim Grendell (R-Chester Township), confirmed in a telephone interview Wednesday that he is organizing a meeting later this summer where opponents of the pending Great Lakes Compact can meet with supporters "to work out a solution."

That may be easier said than done, since the pending Compact took five years to negotiate, and meeting some opponents' objections could unravel the entire agreement.

Ohio media have named Grendell as a major opponent of the Compact in that state, and he has been quoted saying it contains "un-American" language.

The areas in the Compact that Grendell and others are opposing, including State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin) are already spelled out in the Governors' December, 2005 agreement, so altering or deleting them negate the entire agreement.

Grendell's meeting is scheduled in Traverse City, Michigan on August 25th, and coincides with a separate regional conference for state legislators.

Grendell said his major concerns about the Compact were provisions that permitted one state to block a diversion of water in another state - - "the loss of an individual state's authority in their state," as he defined it.

"We don't want Michigan or Indiana to limit our [water] use or our economic development," Grendell said.

The Ohio legislator said he also was concerned that language in the Compact defining Great Lakes water as a resource held in the "public trust" could cause Ohioans to lose their property right to water - - a protected right that he said the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled required compensated if violated.

He also said there was other "vague" language in the Compact that needed clarification.

On the pivotal matter of public trust, the Wisconsin State Constitution includes broad public trust doctrine language that predates statehood and originates in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. That is a water protection principle that guarantees that the state's waters are owned by all the people of the state, with the state as trustee.

Lazich is a member of the Wisconsin legislature's Great Lakes Compact study committee that has been meeting for a year to draft a bill implementing the Compact, and sent Grendell's objections to the committee in January, documents show.

Lazich and Lawrie Kobza, a water law expert who works for some Wisconsin municipalities, have formally suggested stripping the "held in trust" language from Wisconsin's eventual Compact implementing bill, according to Committee records (see p. 2). And here.

Kobza is also a consultant on legal issues to the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, whose regional water supply study is about half done and is building a case for diversions as a regional policy, I have argued.

Opposition by Compact opponents stalled the Committee's work for many months; the creation of a parallel working group by Gov. Jim Doyle seems to have energized the Committee; Lazich was left off the working group and has been unhappy about it.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources told the committee by memo after receiving Grendell's letter from Lazich that Grendell's property rights concerns were inaccurate and had no relevance to Wisconsin.

Grendell said by telephone that his objections to Compact provisions could be cleared up "in less that 20 words," would make sure Ohio's economy will continue to benefit from proximity to Lake Erie, and would continue to guarantee that Great Lakes water would not be diverted from the basin.

Lazich has also strongly objected to the so-called 'single-state veto,' and has been joined in that criticism by the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce.

In a July 19th New Berlin blog commentary, Lazich echoed Grendell's thinking when she concluded:

"I will not endorse a Compact that puts our communities in the precarious position of having water access stripped away by the whims of a single Governor in a neighboring state. Furthermore, I will continue to speak out against the many defects in the document as long as they pose a threat to the welfare of residents in New Berlin and Waukesha."

The full blog is accessible here.

Also objecting to the 'one-state' veto provision and other Compact items including restrictions on diversions to communities in Waukesha County is Committee member Matt Moroney, executive director of the Metropolitan Builders Association, headquartered in Waukesha.

Moroney is also a member of the SEWRPC water supply advisory committee.

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