Sunday, February 10, 2008

DNR Wants To Give Sprawl Planners Even More Power

According to the Daily Reporter, the state Department of Natural Resources wants to give organizations like SEWRPC (the suburban-leaning southeastern Wisconsin regional planning commission) power to recommend approvals for water extensions to undeveloped areas in the counties for which they plan.

If the state permits an unrepresentative body like SEWRPC to help greenlight water transfers from Lake Michigan water to out-of-basin, undeveloped regions (read: enabled sprawl), the result would the additional, government-imposed-and-sanctioned impoverishment of Milwaukee - - a reckless and discriminatory state government act not seen at the Capitol since the Legislature land-locked Milwaukee more than 50 years ago.

The DNR would have the final say, but the SEWRPC seal-of-approval would give water transfer schemes all the cover that final decision-makers would need to give them the go-ahead.

In our region - - Racine, Kenosha, Walworth, Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington Counties - - SEWRPC is heavily biased already in favor of job, housing, and highway growth in the out-of-Milwaukee suburbs.

It's an agency where the prevailing culture is to do things the way they've always been done - - using a small cadre of consultants, rocking no boats, - - as sprawl eats up much of the region's open space, and even SEWRPC's once-sacrosanct environmental, green corridors.

Goodbye, Kettle Moraine, Pabst Farms, Ruby Farms, as The Road To Sprawlville gets another lane all the way to the Jefferson County line.

SEWRPC recommended spending $6.5 billion to rebuild and add capacity to the area's major highways, including adding eleven miles of lanes to the Marquette Interchange and knocking down scores of homes and businesses in and around Milwaukee.

The state transportation department, which gave SEWRPC a million bucks to write the plan, graciously accepted it, and recently announced that the next, transit-free expenditure of $1.9 billion would rebuild and add a lane from Milwaukee to the Illinois state line.

That's what they call planning in southeastern Wisconsin.

And SEWRPC is finishing up a 'regional' water supply study with a committee whose 32-person, all-white membership is heavily tilted away from Milwaukee.

While each county has three commissioners, the City of Milwaukee, with 625,000 people, and populations larger than any of the other six counties, has none.

So do you think SEWRPC will take into account Milwaukee's predominantly low-income population, and its economic development needs, if the issue is whether suburbs should get more water to expand into their undeveloped areas?

The DNR plan, according to the Daily Reporter, would require regional commissions to consider their existing data and plans to determine whether water transfers are needed - - but in SEWRPC's case, its plans are written piecemeal and are inadequate.

For example, SEWRPC has not written a regional housing plan since 1975. Gerald Ford was President then. The Milwaukee Brewers were seven years away from the their only World Series appearance. A generation ago, and more.

And while SEWRPC advocated on behalf of the highway expansion plan it wrote a few years ago for the state, it completely left transit out of that plan.

And the DNR wants to give this agency more power?

What a ridiculous and dangerous circular approach, because SEWRPC already has signaled over and over again that it has little interest in genuine planning to bring about things Milwaukee needs - - transit, housing options, and related job growth.

Milwaukee began to lose clout and wealth when the state locked it out of further annexations in 1955.

White flight accelerated that trend.

SEWRPC has helped marginalize the City: Now the state wants to boost suburban annexations by making it easier for those communities to get more water - - all of which works to the detriment of the largest city in the state.

That's not insightful planning with a city in mind.

It's planning to keep the city out of sight and mind.

Here's a question:

Will the state and SEWRPC recommend and implement tax sharing, so that the water wealth get distributed throughout the region, and particularly to Milwaukee, the most likely source of water diversions, given the city's water intake and pumping capacities?

I doubt it.

Tax base sharing is not one of the issues being explored by the water study committee.

And let's be honest just this once:

The suburbs are interested in walling themselves off from Milwaukee as the focus on their own growth.

They are not interested in sharing.

State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin) has even called such wealth-sharing programs "extortion," so let's not expect the suburbs to offer anything to Milwaukee except a miniscule premium on top of a water gallonage charge. If even that.

Housing agreements. Transit connections for workers or commuters? Forget it. They've ducked these options for decades.

And what is the state's response"

The Daily Reporter piece lets us know that it is apparently OK with the state if Milwaukee gets left further and further behind as the powers-that-be concoct legislation to make sure that it is the suburbs that are taken care of.

Yes, first thing first.

And the City of Milwaukee? Well, it will come into play relevantly during the water debate in the region if SEWRPC - - a body on which it has no representation - - decides to drain off a little more of its resources and transfer them to the suburbs?

Like what was done with land, homes, businesses and tax-base for the Marquette Interchange project, and which will be repeated in the other highway plan segments for the next 25 years.

This is going too far.

If legislation to approve the pending Great Lakes Compact that will probably be introduced next week for a hurried special session includes this extension of power to bodies like SEWRPC - - power fatal to Milwaukee given these commissions' counties-only structures - - then Milwaukee's Mayor, Common Council County Board and legislative delegation have got to demand that it be removed.

And sseriously think about whether this is a version of the Compact that can be supported if.

Because that's not a Compact. It's a suburban-enabling piece of special interest legislation, and one that completely trashes the notion of stewarding commonly held resources.

Additionally, Milwaukee County supervisors should strongly consider withdrawing their annual contribution - - it's in the hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, and is by far the largest of the counties' shares to SEWRPC's operating budget - - if SEWRPC becomes a formal partner in moving water westward.

The Compact is supposed to be a water management agreement among the eight Great Lakes states to further conservation and limit diversions to those absolutely necessary.

And the regional planning commission is supposed to be a collaborative, neutral body, or at least should try to be one, and not continue to define itself as a special-interest adjunct to suburban developers and the road-builders.

Wisconsin officials at the state and local level are constantly looking for ways to subvert the Compact by finding or creating loopholes, principally for Waukesha County suburbs that have overdrawn their wells, yet continue to annex land, pushing development far to the west.

Giving SEWRPC a strong say in whether water should be moved to undeveloped areas - - and calling it planning when the outcome (wink-wink) is so predictable - - is like giving the Tavern League a strong say in whether new bars and restaurants should allow smoking...then calling it public health planning.

1 comment:

Jeramey said...

Great post James. Milwaukee and the metro area need real land-use planning strategies, which will aid in the develop of a real regional transit strategy.

What we have now is a mess. We need a pro-Milwaukee governor and a strong mayor at the same time.