Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Challenges Raised To Regional Water Plan; Will SEWRPC Listen Or Invite Formal Complaints?

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission would be well-advised to take seriously written comments it has received about its draft water supply plan and recommendations.

A coalition of attorneys and community organizations has told SEWRPC that there are civil rights and related legal issues with the recommendations, and how they were written.

The comments and a release about them, are here.

SEWRPC is a 100% publicly-financed regional planning body: how it handles these comments, along with the outcome of pending civil rights complaints facing the agency, will in large measure help define SEWRPC's credibility moving forward.

How the comments are received and evaluated will also reveal the value that SEWRPC officials and federal regulators that work with the agency place on open government, and discrimination-free public planning and spending in a region that includes Milwaukee, Washington, Ozaukee, Waukesha, Walworth, Racine and Kenosha Counties - - close to 40% of the state's population and an area containing most of the state's non-white residents.

The SEWRPC water recommendations suggested massive regional spending on new water infrastructure, and precedent-setting diversions of Lake Michigan water to some suburbs, but did not include in its three year, nearly $1 million study a socio-economic analysis, or consideration of potential impacts on lower-income communities or people of color that a justice task force created by and staffed by SEWRPC itself had asked last year be folded into the water study.

The organizations and attorneys signing the comments are asking that the study remain open until broader parameters and participation are included in the writing of the plan and its final recommendations.

Though SEWRPC officials have said there is no water crisis in the region, they have not reacted positively to suggestions that the water study be kept open and new planning elements be added.

Earlier concerns about SEWRPC's staffing, committee composition and public spending recommendations that were raised with the agency resulted in two formal civil rights complaints filed last year with federal regulatory agencies.

More discussion of SEWRPC and these issues can be accessed by entering ACLU, or SEWRPC, into the search box on the top left of this blog's home page.

The complaints are still pending, as is the release of SEWRPC's quadrennial federal certification review that enables the agency to recommend the spending of certain transportation funds.

Also pending: resolutions to the state from Milwaukee County asking that SEWRPC receive a performance audit, and a separate resolution from the City of Milwaukee asking for substantial changes to the all-county SEWRPC governing structure, or an eventual Milwaukee County and city withdrawal from the agency.

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