Friday, December 17, 2010

Clarifications About Waukesha Water Transparency Discussion

Earlier today I posted an item about policy-making transparency in the unfolding debate in Waukesha over its water supply planning, and specifically about its application for a Lake Michigan diversion that has been placed on hold by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

This latest back-and-forth about transparency was triggered by the city's cancellation of a meeting about the application with the DNR - - a cancellation I had reported earlier, and which the DNR told the Daily Reporter newspaper it did not understand.

From the Daily Reporter story of 11/18:

"[DNR Water Division Administrator Bruce] Baker said the information sought from Waukesha would not have changed regardless who was in attendance, and the DNR sees no reason to prevent the public from attending.

“I can’t identify anything that would justify meeting in closed-door session,” Baker said. “I guess that’s something the city views differently, and that’s their prerogative.”
Dan Duchniak, Waukesha water utility general manager, refused to say what items in the public application the city considers legally sensitive. He said the city’s attorney advised it would not be in Waukesha’s best interest to meet with a third-party present."
One such potential observer (called "special interests" by Waukesha Common Council President Paul Ybarra in his 11/16 meeting cancelleation letter posted by the DNR, here) has now weighed in, so I also want to add below the full text of a letter to The Freeman by Laurie Longtine, representing the Waukesha County Environmental Action League.

It adds to the discussion:
"I’m writing to clarify a couple of statements that were made in the recent Freeman article of November 18 about the City canceling a meeting about its Lake Michigan water supply application with the Department of Natural Resources which several environmental groups were expecting to attend as observers only.

First, neither the CIC (Compact Implementation Coalition) nor WEAL (Waukesha County Environmental Action League) have opposed the City’s efforts to solve its long term water supply needs. To the contrary, we have repeatedly offered the City our assistance and support to ensure that the application is environmentally and economically sound and fair.

Neither WEAL nor the CIC supports or opposes a water diversion in general. Our main concern is ensuring that the application meets or exceeds the standards of the Great Lakes Compact.

Waukesha’s application is the first of its kind, but certainly not the last, for a diversion outside the Great Lakes basin. Waukesha's application will set the precedent, and therefore it must be a good one, which is why former Mayor Larry Nelson repeatedly promised that Waukesha’s application would set “a high bar.”

Waukesha’s ongoing attempts to conduct business away from the light of public scrutiny makes a person wonder what it has to hide: what sensitive legal issues so worry the City that it cannot raise them in public?

If our presence at the meeting were to have the “chilling effect” Common Council President Paul Ybarra predicts, what is the City planning to talk about?

City Attorney Curt Meitz incorrectly says that the DNR invited “ a specific special interest group” to the meeting. First, no invitation is required when two public entities meet to discuss the public's business, especially when that particular business involves public money and a public resource.

It’s a public meeting that is open to the public. Period.

Secondly, our groups are not special interest groups, unless you consider the public’s interest a special interest. We represent citizens in a wide array of issues concerning public resources, public health, and public funds.

However, Meitz was correct when he said that “If you’ll allow one, then allow everybody that’s affected.” That's the very definition of public.

The public’s right-to-know is clearly stated in Wisconsin law, repeated in the Compact’s statutory language, codified in DNR regulations, and supported by decades of precedent in Wisconsin.
The meeting should be rescheduled and kept open.

Laurie Longtine
Waukesha County Environmental Action League (WEAL)"

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