Monday, November 22, 2010

Waukesha Flies Into Regulatory, PR Turbulence

Let's talk aviation and Waukesha for a moment, and no, this is not about its airport,  Crites Field.

It's about the Waukesha Water Utility and its April application for Lake Michigan water that, so far, the Wisconsin DNR finds deficient, and about which Waukesha is so touchy that it canceled a meeting with the DNR last week when it discovered that the public - - horrors! - - wanted to observe.

This indicates that Waukesha has a serious case of NIH syndrome.

I'll explain - - but it has nothing to do with the National Institutes of Health.

When I was a reporter at the old Milwaukee Journal I developed a specialty investigating aviation accidents.

One of the persistent themes: the Federal Aviation Administration's foot-dragging and hostility to changes in procedures, manufacturing and operations suggested by the independent National Transportation Safety Board.

In the aviation business, people said the FAA had "NIH" syndrome - - "Not Invented Here."

In other words, while Waukesha has had a number of set-piece, Kabuki-theater power point presentations and public meetings on the application, it knows that a technical discussion with a DNR working group might highlight problems already cited by the DNR with the application - - see the text and correspondence posted at the DNR's dedicated Waukesha water application here - - are similar to the problems raised with the application by environmental observers and groups more than a year ago.

In fact, the DNR said it did not understand why Waukesha wanted to close the meeting.

Is this the way to win the DNR's confidence and get the application moving forward when the application is the first under a new US-Canadian Great Lakes water management Compact?

And it is the DNR that would be the transmitter of the application to the eight states who must vote unanimously to approve that application - - with the consultation of two Canadian provinces.

Had Waukesha embraced the environmental observers, the application would probably be already fine-tuned and past the DNR's continuing resistance.

That's why NIH syndrome is so insidious - -  it's self-generated and self-defeating.

When you have NIH syndrome, your corporate and internal cultures are closed to fresh ideas, so you stick with in-house or traditional approaches even if it means you stay in neutral and end up in a frankly absurd position:

You are a public agency that wants to spend $164 million public dollars on a controversial water supply system.

You are applying for up to $100 million in federal aid to build it.

You are entering a public regulatory process never before used that involves public officials in eight sates and two Canadian provinces as they prepare to make a precedent-setting decision about piping water - - a publicly-managed resource - - outside of the Great Lakes basin.

And you are stuck at public regulatory review step #1 - - the DNR's pivotal legal and environmental assessment - -  so what do you do"

Cancel a meeting with the very same DNR - - certainly a public agency - - because the public wants to attend and observe.

Doctor, doctor, Waukesha needs a new prescription to fend off an outbreak of NIH.


Anonymous said...

Good luck trying to persuade Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) to sign off on the compact.

From Cuomo days before the election.

His document also suggests that Governor-elect Cuomo will be as much about the carrot as the stick when it comes to promoting conservation. He proposes a "Cleaner Greener Communities Competitive Grant Program" to help create incentives for sustainable communities, encourage smart growth, and reduce sprawl.

Good luck Waukesha, you are going to need it.

Boxer said...

It's fairly obvious that Waukesha doesn't want observers in the room because it knows that the DNR will say the application is deficient in the ways that the environmentalists have been pointing out.

And the other reason is they don't want any witnesses to the begging or bullying strategy they intend to employ. My guess is if Barrett had been elected, they would have begged. With Walker in office they will attempt to bully the DNR into accepting their incomplete and amateur application.

What they've done instead is to reveal to the watching world their childish and unprofessional approach to the entire diversion question, further damaging their credibility and therefore their chances of making a successful application. They've also stupidly painted themselves into a corner from which there is no legal escape, or any face-saving one.

Anony Too said...


Your argument, quote and thought process are spot on. One minor point of correction, though:

All of the GL states Govs, including NY, have already signed off on the Compact. So have the Feds, including GW Bush.

What the GL Govs will be asked to approve is Waukesha's request for this diversion. All (of the other) 7 states govs must unanimously approve it.

With Waukesha's recent attempts to keep everything under wraps, and their unwillingness to acknowledge the deficiencies in their application, you can see what a fool's errand this entire thing is. What a waste of time, energy and money they are putting this state through--and delaying the solution to their problem right along with it.

In addition to Cuomo in NY, I think we can also look to the govs of IL, MN, and MI to see through this mess to what Waukesha is up to and vote no. IN and PA I don't think can be predictably on one 'side' or the other. Ohio's new governor seems to have crawled out of the same cave that ours did.

Anonymous said...

Correction from the 1st post. I meant to say sign off on Waukesha's diversion request and not the GLC as a whole. The water utility wanted, and needed this to be done by the time the new governors took over and it didn't happen.

It seems as though the city leaders (except their mayor) is oblivious to the fact that these other states need to sign off on their request. What incentive does another state such as NY, MI or MN have to allow a water diversion and fuel growth for a community outside their own state.

The other state governors will have a choice to either fight their own environmentalist lobbies and citizens and sign off on the diversion, or simply not approve it and let some Waukesha city residents get upset. Hmmm... I wonder what they will choose to do, listen to their own voters, or approve an unpopular and incomplete diversion application for some suburbanites in Waukesha?

Anonymous said...

I agree that the powers that be in the waukesha water utility - particularly the Commission President Dan Warren, General Manager Dan and the whole engineering staff have a lot to explain. First they spent millions of dollars fighting the radium rule to no avail and wasted our money trying to keep radium tainted water in our pipes - now they are throwing hundreds of thousands at a fools chase to get Lake water. When they do not succeed - they and all the consultants and lobbyists they get advice from need to find new jobs. Some have called them power brokers - I think they are misinformed and misdirected power mongers.