Thursday, June 23, 2011

Water Diversion Politics Simmering In The Waukeshas - - Will The DNR Wait, Initiate Or Mediate?

City of Waukesha Common Council members said Tuesday night they wanted to get "politics" out of upcoming water supply negotiations.

The City has embarked on a plan to access a new, near-term water supply through an eminent domain taking of water-rich property in the neighboring Town of Waukesha while pursuing a long-term, permanent supply through a diversion of Lake Michigan water that will require a) the approval of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, b) a water-sales contract with a Lake Michigan water supplier, and c) the approval of all eight Great Lakes states under a 2008 Compact. 

And speaking of Lake Michigan, Waukesha's effort to rid the water-acquisition process of politics has about as much chance of success as getting the summer breeze and humidity off Bradford Beach.

Waukesha's Common Council voted Tuesday night against adding anyone - - not even its Mayor - - to its three-person, all-appointed-bureaucrat water negotiating team, though these negotiations could produce a deal with City of Milwaukee, the favored Lake Michigan water seller, which has established a seven-member team on which will sit its elected Mayor, Council president, City Attorney and Comptroller.

The Council's decision to keep its team small and free of "politics" didn't suggest the City was interested in adding to its team the bordering Town of Waukesha - - a more rural municipality with far fewer people than the City, and which the City included in its diversion application drafted a year ago without Town consultation.

The two municipalities have been at odds over land and water issues, of late.

Not surprisingly, the Town has yet to agree to the City's belated request - - and it's not clear what the Town's answer will be, or what all of the implications of either "yes," or "no" might be.

"The Town has no business at the table," former City of Waukesha Mayor Paul Vrakas said during public comments to the Council Tuesday night.

In the context of these "politics," and the struggles over water rights and other border troubles between Town and City, it's important to highlight that the Town of Waukesha Board Chairwoman Angie Van Scyoc read at the Tuesday city Council meeting a stunning letter to Waukesha's Mayor and Council signed by all five Town board members.

With a board energized with new leadership following recall elections last year in which water policy relationships with the City were pivotal, the Town is clearly trying to broaden and elevate the discussion about water to include border development and highway expansion.

Several previous posts on this blog have focused on City/Town highway and water matters - - here, for example

Ask yourself, how often do you see language between contentious communities like "collectively reconcile and accommodate," or "sincere desire to work cooperatively with you on an equal footing and with mutual respect," or:

"We seek this opportunity to sit down with you as a group to have a direct and candid discussion about challenges which we collectively faces as adjoining communities and therefore neighbors."
You can access the letter in pdf format:

Waukesha's Mayor Scrima had previously urged (the bold-facing is his) in a public letter last July that the Town be given more consideration in water planning:
3. A process that is respectful of and works with our neighbors. As appealing as it may be to some, the City’s expanded water service territory into the Town of Waukesha , as outlined in the Application, is not in the long-term financial or environmental interests of either the City or our neighbors
My take on all this:

To strengthen its application, to justify adding the Town to an expanded water service territory map for diverted Lake Michigan water, the City needs the Town to agree to be included in the plan.

And if the Town were to accept, a) wouldn't it be entitled to a seat at the table, since something like a million gallons of Lake Michigan water could possibly flow daily via the City into the Town, and, b) wouldn't the Town then become a true partner/co-applicant, and thus be obliged to meet, as does the City, the Compact's legal, conservation, planning and public participation requirements?

The DNR has yet to agree that the city's diversion application is complete; the issue of Town participation was one of many gaps in the application the DNR told the City in December to address.

Does the DNR want to begin its long, costly and consequential review of the application if the two Waukeshas have not agreed on their water supply relationship - - though the Town has offered a format and to which a City reply should follow?

The City believes the DNR will go ahead with its review despite the uncertainty about the Town's position.

Definitive guidance from the DNR on these points now would be tremendously helpful, and logical.


1 comment:

Boxer said...

I watched the meeting on TV and observed that despite the reasonableness of the letter, the calm and respectful tone in which it was delivered, it generated no comment on the part of the City Council whatsoever. A thank you from the Mayor was it until I turned off the TV around 10:00. I believe this was an unprecedented action: for the entire Town Board to attend a City council meeting and ask publicly for a meeting at which they would propose to negotiate matters that in the past have been litigated, according to the Town Chair.
The City Council then displayed its typical lack of understanding or willingness to do anything that wasn't previously scripted by the Water Utility and its puppets on the City Council. They sat there stone-faced, some yawning, some figeting, waiting for orders from Little Lord Fauntleroy.