Friday, May 15, 2009

Independent Socio-Economic Analysis Will Be Added To Water Study

Ken Yunker, Executive Director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC), confirmed by telephone today that the agency will add an independent socio-economic analysis to the draft regional water supply study that had gone out for public comment earlier this year.

Critics had said that without such an independent analysis, the study could lack credibility because water has direct effects on key regional issues like housing, land use, transportation and development.

Including a socio-economic analysis in the water supply study performed by outside consultants had been sought by SEWRPC's outreach arm, the Environmental Justice Task Force; Phil Evenson, SEWRPC's previous executive director, had resisted task force suggestions to broaden the study scope with socio-economic analysis by outside consultants.

Yunker had said recently that SEWRPC staff believed the analysis should be included - - some details here - - and confirmed Friday he had obtained approval from SEWRPC's executive committee to find a consultant to perform the additional analysis for the water study.

He said did not know how long it would take for the analysis to be completed.

It's worth remembering that when the water study advisory committee began meeting in late 2005, it chose - - without objection from SEWRPC senior staff present - - not to broaden the study scope away from its relatively narrow, cost-benefits/supply-demand construct.

It did make sure the study conformed to SEWRPC's existing, master Land Use Plan, but that document, as amended over the years, has also been criticized as lacking in socio-economic focus.

All in all, I think Yunker's decision and the commission's approval are positive steps - - and they won't hurt SEWRPC in the eyes of federal regulators who have yet to release their quadriennial re-certification review that would permit SEWRPC to retain rights to approve certain federal transportation projects in the region.

That review began in the fall, and the report release, previously scheduled in March, has been delayed at least until the end of May, federal officials have told me.

But back to the independent socio-economic analysis that will now be part of the water studies, and, also, all future SEWRPC studies.

I expect the task force to offer suggestions about which consultant to hire to work on it.

The agency would be wise to take direction from the task force, which meets next Tuesday, June 2nd, from 4-6:00 p.m., at IndependenceFirst, 540 S. 1st St., Milwaukee.

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