Waukesha Mayor, Environmentalists Pushing For Water Planning Transparency
There is advocacy for greater transparency in Waukesha's water politics, but you have to look past its Common Council leadership to find it.
The Waukesha Freeman reports that the city's Mayor, Jeff Scrima, is continuing his push for open meetings and visible planning as Waukesha struggles to get the DNR to take up the city's application for a diversion of Lake Michigan water.
The DNR - - it explains on its application website's the EIS tab why it has frozen the review - - was set to discuss the stalled application last month with city officials, but Waukesha Common Council President Paul Ybarra had the meeting canceled because observers from environmental groups wanted to sit in and listen.
Even the DNR was baffled by the city's action, said The Daily Reporter.
Following the cancellation, the DNR sent the city a long letter about the application and laid out 49 areas of shortcomings, gaps, questions or deficiencies.
I wrote extensively about the content and import of the letter; here is one blog posting with relevant documentation and a summary of a week's worth of reporting and commentary.
The Freeman story also notes that the Waukesha County Environmental Action League is arguing, as it has in the past, that the city and water utility should keep the diversion application process in the open.
This is all to the good, as Waukesha officials too often have used closed meeting sessions or end runs around public procedures as they managed the strategy for what would be, under the Great Lakes Compact of 2008, a precedent-setting diversion of water outside the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin.
A political newcomer and the upset winner of the Waukesha mayoralty in April, Scrima defeated incumbent Larry Nelson, a diversion proponent, and remains skeptical of the Lake Michigan option.
The complex application, if the DNR moves it into hearings and a Great Lakes regional review, would need the unanimous approval under the Compact of all eight Great Lakes states, and a water supply agreement with a lakefront city, before Waukesha could implement its estimated $164 million diverted water and wastewater return flow plan.
Below is a letter to the editor published in the Waukesha Freeman on Nov 24. Though the letter's primary subject is the cancellation of the meeting with the DNR, it may add to your readers' understandings of the open records and open meetings issues we have here in Waukesha.
Thanks for keeping the lights turned on in the smoky back rooms!
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.
Waukesha County Environmental Action League (WEAL)
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