Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Waukesha's Water Diversion Application - - Connecting The Dots

A few items and observations about the City of Waukesha and its quest for a diversion of water from Lake Michigan:

*  A little while ago I was talking to a lobbyist who told me matter-of-factly that the application for Lake Michigan was being "fast-tracked" at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, now managed by Cathy Stepp, a home-builder, with a management team heavy on business appointees.

Given Waukesha's generally-Republican tilt, and the new, pro-business identity assigned to the agency by Scott Walker, I took the lobbyist's remark at face value.

Besides, the person is smart, well-connected and without a dog in that hunt.

*  A few days ago - - and based on information from sources other than that lobbyist - - I posted this item about Waukesha's application:
"Bruce Baker, the top, veteran water regulator at the DNR, is leaving the agency, and with his departure, the management of Waukesha's application for a Lake Michigan diversion is being taken over by the department's new Secretary, Cathy Stepp, insiders report."
*  You may also remember a few weeks ago that I posted an email exchange I had with Waukesha Water Utility Daniel Duchniak.

The subject: why remarks that Dan Warren, the utility commission chairman, made at the commission's December meeting about a conversation Warren had with then-Governor-elect Scott Walker was not referenced in the December minutes.

I had heard from two sources that Warren told the commission that he had had a conversation with Walker about the application - - which remains in a preliminary stage of review by the DNR, pending the receipt of more information from the utility.

Said Duchniak, by email, in response to my question:
"I went back and listened to the tape of the meeting for the exchange.

"Commission President Warren was late to the meeting.  After the presentation that was being made when he arrived was completed, he stated the following, “I’m sorry I was late, I made myself late by having a unique opportunity to spend a little time with our governor elect.  
"So, I had that opportunity so I switched hats a couple of times during the conversation. 

"Obviously, he knows the linkage with Waukesha Water and our application.”  

"That was the extent of that conversation.  We usually do not include a commissioner’s explanation for being late to a meeting with the minutes.  We just note the time they arrived and/or left the meeting.

"I will plan bring this exchange up at our next commission meeting and ask them if they remember the discussion differently and whether or not the minutes should be amended.

"Let me know if you have any other questions."
*  I finally got around to going out to the utility's offices last month and listened to the tapes of several commission meetings.

I found that the commissioners agreed at their February meeting that Warren's remarks about Walker in December were to be treated as an off-hand remark about being late therefore didn't need to be added to the December minutes.

*  Before I left the commission's office, I decided to listen to the full tape of the December meeting - - past the section that Duchniak had copied out for me where Warren says Walker "knows the linkage with Waukesha Water and our application" - - and towards the end of the meeting tape, as commissioners completed a discussion about their water application consultants, members can be heard pressing Warren for a more information about his talk with Walker.

Warren replied:
"Let's just say that personally I am more more optimistic in terms of the progress of the review going forward."
To which a male voice replies, "that's what we wanted to hear."

*  So I choose to connect the dots and see "fast-tracked" with Stepp's leadership making sense.


Anonymous said...

I may be very naive, but if the Waukesha application makes it through the WI process with a less than rigorous review, it will still have to be approved by 7 other Great Lakes states and 2 Canadian provinces. There's a check in the system, even if it is no longer in WI, right?

Again, I fully appreciate that I may just be naive...

James Rowen said...

I agree, and I have said often on this blog that a less-than-completely rigorous review will only bring about resentment in the other states. The Canadians are in only for advisory reviews, and no vote, but their input will count.

Anonymous said...

For anyone who wishes to formulate their own opinion on whether this is on the fast track or not, you need to read how the Water Utility manager has decided with the DNR, under new management, to proceed with the application without compliance to the delineation of a service area.

A few questions need to be asked.

1.How is it possible to establish a specified quantity requested in maximum annual amount without a defined service area?

2. How can the Waukesha Water Utility submit the application without a defined service area?

3. How can the service area proposed include the City of Pewaukee and they haven't had a public hearing?

I sure hope everyone is making a check list and comparing the application to the 11 page list of deficiencies.