Thursday, February 14, 2008

Barrett Calls For Great Lakes Compact, Notes SEWRPC Problems

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett used his State of the City address Thursday to call for adoption of the pending Great Lakes Compact.

Story, here.

Barrett also highlighted a concern that was detailed on this blog a few days ago - - the Department of Natural Resource's very troubling plan to turn over a key step in review of Great Lakes diversion applications and other water transfers to the regional planning commission, SEWRPC.

(And Assembly Republican leaders announced Thursday they were abandoning a bi-partisan approach to passing the Great Lakes Compact, preferring instead to send the agreement back to the states for renegotiation - - the procedural equivilant of sending a bill back to committee to kill it.)

Located in Pewaukee, and without a single Milwaukee-appointed commissioner among its 21 members, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) has a structural and policy bias in favor of sprawl development.

Its recommended highway expansion plan, on which the state is spending $6.5 billion, does not include a penny of money for any rail or bus component.

That's the case even with the next $1.9 billion construction phase - - Milwaukee to the Illinois state line, even though there is a commuter rail plan ready to break ground in the same corridor.

These points are made strongly in Barrett's speech, too.

This all means the very communities in the six counties surrounding Milwaukee will be obtaining more highway access into undeveloped areas - - bringing along development, housing and jobs - - without providing access and benefits to less-wealthy, City-based transit-users.

Thus any reviews and decisions to approve water transfers to SEWRPC counties will be done deals if SEWRPC is permitted to then carry out their technical reviews.

That is monumentally unfair, discriminatory and just plain wrong. It will essentially turn SEWRPC into more of a special interest group - - helping subdivision planners and highway lobbyists and annexation-happy suburbs - - that it is now.

Add to that reality SEWRPC's unwillingness to provide a housing study with recommendations for the region since 1975, and the anti-Milwaukee biased regional trifecta at work within SEWRPC's offices comes into sharger focus:

No housing study for 33 years.

No transit in the multi-billion highway expansion plan.

Enabling water transfers away from Lake Michigan to the SEWRPC region's faraway suburbs, exurbs and remaining agricultural land.

So kudos to Mayor Barrett for highlighting and redefining the Great Lakes Compact issue.

We in Milwaukee need to hear from our legislative delegation, alderman and county supervisors, too - - and what we need to hear is those decision-makers applaud Barrett's leadership and will follow his lead.

The Milwaukee County Board does not need any more justification to yank SEWRPC's annual appropriation, for example.

It's the largest automatic transfer of operating money from the seven SEWRPC counties every year, and for Milwaukee County and the city, the return on that shift of hundreds of thousands of property tax dollars is now a net negative.

Milwaukee residents would get more bang for those bucks if they were air-dropped over Downtown Milwaukee, retrieved, spent at local restaurants and stores, or tucked into a Money Market account earning 0.5%.

Our elected officials have to stand up against this serious powershift away from the city - - if more power to SEWRPC on water transfers sneaks into the Wisconsin version of the Compact.

It will further disenfranchise urban residents and wall them off again, much as they are blocked from full access to the suburbs by the boundary-freezing 1955 Oak Creek Law, from an equal share of the benefits of state action, public spending and planning.

That's making a bad situation worse, and is certainly not what the Great Lakes Compact was intended to do.

Focused on water, the agreement - - rolled out today at the State Capitol later today for state approval - - the Compact is a conservation and stewardship agreement among eight states.

It should not be used to earmark water for suburbs, enriching them while while harming Wisconsin's only big city.


Anonymous said...

This blog always has the best coverage about SEWRPC's sprawl bias.

It just dawned on me... I'm guilty (along with others) of whining about SEWRPC's anti-urban bias and incompetence.

Today, I'm more concerned with action. I'd like to see a real alternative. Down with SEWRPC! Abolish it, secede from it, take away it's funding. We should create a proposal for an alternative agency with a balanced, representative structure (based on population).

Retire the old complaints and let's encourage the city's leaders and experts (1000 Friends maybe) to put together a panel that would explore alternative governing structures.

Maybe this has been tried before? Any thoughts why this wouldn't be prudent?

James Rowen said...

All good ideas. The County Board has had at least one committee hearing on whether to continue to fund SEWRPC: I think if they get this water diversion review power - - and they would not have this drop in their lap from the DNR without getting it all worked out in advance - - then there is a need for coordinated, private/public/non-profit action to pull the funding.

State law that created the commissions requires the approval of the other counties to let a county get out of the commission, and since Milwaukee County is their cash cow, it's unlikely they would release Milwaukee County from the structure.

But the funding is discrentionary, and that is where SEWRPC is vulnerable.

And believe me, the people out there know it.