Monday, April 26, 2010

Waukesha Common Council Cedes Power In Water Diversion Process

It came as a bit of a surprise to learn last week that Waukesha had not yet submitted its application to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for a diversion of Lake Michigan water despite repeated claims of a tight timeline that includes DNR review, Great Lakes regional reviews, perhaps negotiations with potential sellers, and a construction schedule calling for pipeline and other improvements totaling at least $164 million.

Daniel Duchniak is the General Manager of the Waukesha Water Utility and point person for the city's water supply studies, Lake Michigan diversion application and overall city water system operations.

In answer to a question, he told me by email late last week that there were some minor modifications being made at the suggestion of the City Attorney to the application approved by the Waukesha Common Council on April 8th, but there was no need to resubmit the application to the Council before the document was sent this week to the DNR.

Duchniak said no new approval was needed because the Council resolution contained this phrase:

" approve submission of the draft Great Lakes Water Application to the State of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, as provided under 2007 Act 227 of the Great Lakes Compact Implementation Law, subject to non-substantive and/or organizational changes and with the understanding that modifications or additional information may also be required and are an anticipated part of the application process." [the emphasis is mine.]

What I see in that language is an awful lot of public-policy making permission ceded by the Council that can allow non-elected Water Utility staff and/or the eelected City Attorney to change the diversion application without the Waukesha Common Council, city residents, utility rate payers or interested parties seeing the fine print.

[An earlier version of this posting said the City Attorney was non-elected. That was an error.]

I'm not saying that these officials should come back to the Council for permission to change a semi-colon to a comma, but with a diversion plan this costly, and precedent-setting, and controversial, wouldn't it make sense for Waukesha's Common Council to take a truly final look at the application before it is transmitted, and then to spell out what constitutes "modifications?"

And require that subsequent changes be regularly posted in an easily-accessible format on the city's website, with notice also released that changes have been made?

There is a history of complaints about the way the Waukesha Water Utility Commission has viewed the state Open Meetings law. In fact, a formal complaint against the Commission on this issue - had been dismisssed in March - - was brought by Waukesha blogger and activist Jim Bouman.

I will review and post the settlement later today.

And right now the Town of Waukesha is battling with the city over well siting issues.

Waukesha can help address these issues and head off another struggle over transparency by making sure that it finishes and continues its Lake Michigan diversion application process in the brightest sunlight.


jpk said...

So what are they changing?

Riverkeeper said...

It should also be noted that the public was allowed to comment on the first version of the draft application, and we have heard that there was a second version released the week of the council vote, which the public has not seen, and now a third version, which has not been made public. From the last council meeting, it seems clear that there have been major additions of alternatives and substantive changes, that the public and taxpayers have not been able to comment on or even review.