Sunday, October 15, 2017

Foxconn headed for flood-prone Racine County

[Reposted, updated from 9/12/17] 

So Kenosha County is out, and Racine County 'wins' the Foxconn location competition by default, raising this water-related Foxconn [full issue archive, here] question:

With record-breaking flooding in Racine County this summer that even destroyed all the money in one local bank's vault, and more flooding in 2016, and also in 2008you have to wonder if it's smart for the Governor and legislature to approve unique environmental waivers allowing Foxconn to divert stream flows and fill water-absorbing wetlands in Racine County to build its state-subsidized factory.  

[10/15/17 update] I wish Wisconsin business columnist and Foxconn backer Tom Still had included the details of the Foxconn wetlands waiver issue, and the overall contempt for science exhibited by Scott Walker through major DNR budget cuts and website deletions in his October 14 column, "Science can help mitigate effects of natural disasters."
Natural disasters will happen, with or without climate change. The trick is understanding how to mitigate the effects of those disasters before and after they happen.
More information about Racine County and the 11% of its area covered by 23,000+ acres of wetlands, here.

Racine County is one of seven counties in the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, (SEWRPC), and it said in a lengthy 2015 report that flooding was a major hazard in Racine County (beginning in p. 86):
Flooding is a significant hazard in Racine County. As described in Chapter II, there are approximately 101 miles of major streams in Racine County, located within four watersheds: the Fox (Illinois) River, Root River, Pike River, and Des Plaines River watersheds. A fifth watershed encompasses those areas adjacent to Lake Michigan which drain directly into the Lake through intermittent streams. There are also 10 major lakes in Racine County. Floodlands are the wide, gently sloping areas contiguous to, and usually lying on both sides of, a stream channel. For planning and regulatory purposes, floodlands are normally defined as the areas subject to inundation by the one-percent-annual-probability (100-year recurrence interval) flood event...
Approximately 34.7 square miles, not including surface water in lakes and existing stream channels, or about 10 percent of the total area of the County, were located within the one-percent-annual-probability flood hazard area. A consideration in flood hazard mitigation is the potential for increased flooding due to dam failures. Since there are a number of major and minor dams in Racine County, including six rated by the State as being a high or significant hazard, future evaluation of floodplain areas related to dam failure should be considered. All of the floodplain areas have been mapped on large-scale topographic mapping prepared at a scale of one inch equals 200 feet, with a contour interval of two feet...
While the focus of this section is on the flooding hazard, the related stormwater drainage hazards are also considered because of the interrelationship between those two hazard conditions.
Historical Flooding Problems
As noted earlier in this chapter, a number of major flooding events, including several that caused significant damage, have been recorded in Racine County, as well as in the watershed areas partly encompassed within the County....
Description of Recent Flood Events
Since 1990, there have been 39 flood events reported by the National Climatic Data Center affecting Racine County. Those flood events were reported to have caused property damages totaling, in 2008 dollars, about $41.7 million in damage, of which $34.5 million was related to crop damages. The most severe recent events occurred in June-July 1993, June 1996, August 1998, June 1999, July 2, 2000, May-June 2004, August 19-22, 2007, June 7-9, 2008, and June 19, 2009. 
Subsequent to the SEWRPC report, Great Lakes governors approved Waukesha's application to divert millions of gallons of water daily from Lake Michigan, returning it as I'd noted on this blog as treated wastewater via the Root River, so more flow though the county.

The bill the Senate will approve today for the Governor's signature shortly thereafter with those privileges for Foxconn also exempts the project from the production of a standard  Environmental Impact Statement, (EIS), which would investigate these issues and their broad public impacts.

But the EIS was dismissed as a burdensome  "book report" by the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce - - the state's largest business association and a leading Foxconn booster - - so little wonder that an EIS is barred for the Foxconn project, despite its historic physical and financial dimensions.

Can you imagine any WMC board member or official waiving the inspection on a home site he or she were buying?

Little wonder that while the Foxconn measure is being fast-tracked through the Legislature, a new push for deregulated mining is also being rushed into the legislative process, since what's good for Foxconn and big agricultural polluters will also become routine for metallic mines and their acidic runoff.

So it goes in Scott Walker's Wisconsin, where he continues to dismiss the relevancy in the face of recent and repetitive flooding in several parts of the state, has directed the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources be run with "a chamber of commerce mentality," where climate change has been deleted from websites and the official state consciousness, and where since 2011 Walker has systematically removed funding, science, staff, anti-pollution enforcement measures from its operations.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pleasant Prairie is out.

The city of Kenosha wasn’t the only community to take a pass on Foxconn.

Early in the company’s search process in the region, Pleasant Prairie Village President John Steinbrink said, company representatives met with the village about the possibility of locating there. “It was not a good fit for us,” Steinbrink said, and the village let the company know they were not interested.

Steinbrink said the company was likely looking throughout the region at that time, and because they village took a pass early “we didn’t get into the details” of Foxconn’s plans.

He said Pleasant Prairie may not have ultimately been a good location for Foxconn because the village would have had difficulty putting together the 1,000 acres the development is said to require. But Steinbrink said that village leaders, like Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian, also stopped talks quickly because they felt that village taxpayers would have been left with too much financial exposure to make the project work.

The development will be built with the help of a tax incremental financing district, and any property taxes generated from the development over the life of the TIF would not go into the general tax revenue for the community where it is based, but would instead go toward repaying development costs. That is a typical financial structure to attract business development, but the scale of the Foxconn project gave Pleasant Prairie pause.

“You have to provide that service on the backs of the existing taxpayers, and the payback is how many years out,” Steinbrink said. “It’s so long it’s not beneficial to the community.”

He said Pleasant Prairie also worried about what he called “American Motors Syndrome.”

“We like the idea of diversity instead of having one large business out there,” Steinbrink said. During the recession of 2008, there were a number of business failures at LakeView Corporate Park, he said, but because of the mix of businesses in the development it did not affect the overall financial health of the village. “We want to avoid American Motors Syndrome because then you can have one failure that is catastrophic.”

Steinbrink said he is also somewhat skeptical about putting such a huge investment into a factory focused on television screen technology when technology changes so quickly and today’s hot product is obsolete tomorrow.

One recent example occurred in Harvard, Ill. where Motorola built a 1.5 million-square-foot, $90 million cellphone factory in 1996 that was expected to secure the financial future of the small town. For a time it did, and the factory employed as many as 5,000 people. But soon after the factory opened cell phone technology began shifting and by 2008 Motorola was splitting up its business. The Harvard factory closed less than seven years after it opened, and worldwide Motorola’s overall employment fell from a peak of 150,000 to 24,000. The Harvard plant has been vacant since 2003.

Steinbrink said if Foxconn develops in Racine County, Pleasant Prairie would likely benefit from the development of companies that serve the supply chain, something he said would likely be a better fit for the village. “Foxconn, if they come, bless them, they’ll bring in those spin-off companies.”