DNR: Waukesha's Great Lakes Application Approval a Long Process
Strong support of application shown during Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources hearing, but a few people opposed the application.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources – while beginning the initial public hearings on the city’s application to divert Great Lakes water past the Subcontinental Divide – is not ready to make a judgment to forward the application to the other Great Lakes states for approval.
“We haven’t made any decisions about the Waukesha application,” said Shaili Pfeiffer, DNR water use program chief, who walked the public through the set of criteria that Waukesha needed to meet to apply for the water.
Waukesha is looking to purchase from Milwaukee, Oak Creek or Racine as it needs to reduce the radium levels that are currently in the city’s water supply. The city is under pressure to meet a June 2018 radium compliance deadline and is in the process of developing a new water supply to address declining water levels and quality in its groundwater wells.
The public comments
Two union groups came forward Tuesday to support the city’s Great Lakes Water application.
“Waukesha’s proposal to build a pipeline will provide local jobs and ensure a long-term, safe water supply for the community,” wrote the Steamfitters Local 601.
A letter from the Plumbers Local 75 also gave support to Waukesha’s Great Lakes application.
“Our local is facing 20 percent unemployment and this project would help decrease that number,” the letter states. “Employing Wisconsin workers means the income tax dollars stay here. Waukesha and the surrounding area, including Milwaukee, will benefit from the jobs and income this project will provide.”
The unions’ entire responses can be found in the attached media.
Meanwhile, several community members spoke during the meeting. The majority of the people speaking have already spoken before the Waukesha Common Council bringing forward the same statements or questions, which did not escape the attention of former Alderman Rick Tortomasi.
“I have heard the same questions from the same people again and again,” Tortomasi told members from the DNR, adding that those people have made up their minds on the water issue.
Twelve people, including aldermen and community members, spoke during the public hearing urging the DNR to move the application forward so the city can obtained Great Lakes water.
Members of the Common Council that spoke in favor of the application were Joe Pieper, Joan Francoeur, Chris Hernadez, Paul Ybarra and Rick Hastings.
“We have devoted a significant amount of time in researching this,” said Pieper, inviting anyone who wanted to meet with him about the water issue to do so.
One women from Brookfield was concerned about the effects shallow wells would have on the Vernon Marsh if the city were to use the shallow wells that are planned for a parcel in the Town of Waukesha.
Opposing the application or opposing the designation that the DNR gave that the application is complete and ready for review were three people affiliated with environmentalist groups and two Waukesha residents, including School Board Member Steve Edlund.
“There are just a lot of questions we need answers to,” said Charlene Lemoine, a member of the Waukesha Environmental Action League.
Former Mayor Larry Nelson was among those supporting the application, stating it was the biggest public health issue facing the city of Waukesha. Great Lakes water would provide a sustainable and environmentally safe water supply, Nelson said.
Mayor Jeff Scrima was in the audience but did not speak during the meeting. Scrima, who at one time said he did not want the city to obtain Lake Michigan water, recently said during a public meeting that he supports the application and the council’s decision. Scrima later clarified that statement in an e-mail saying “Mayor Scrima wanted to clarify that he respects the democratic system of checks and balances and wants to cooperate with the council, however he personally believes that Waukesha’s application for a Great Lakes diversion is still not complete and that all other alternative water solutions have not fully been explored.”
The Next Steps
About 50 people were in attendance at the meeting at Waukesha County Technical College.
Following Tuesday night’s public hearing, two more hearings are being held, including one today (July 27, 2011) in Wauwatosa and another on Thursday in Sturtevant. There is also going to be a 30-day public comment period as DNR officials obtain information about what people want included as the DNR begins a technical review and environmental impact statement for the application.
After the drafts of the technical review and EIS are completed, there will be another round of public hearings with a 45-day public comment period. Then the DNR will finalize the EIS and determine if the application is ready for Wisconsin approval. A 30-day public comment period would be included on the final EIS before the DNR approves the application to move to other states for approval.
If the other Great Lakes states approve Waukesha’s request to pipe an average of 10.9 million gallons of water a day – with the maximum request being 18.5 million gallons of water a day on peak days – and return the water to the Great Lakes basin, then the application comes back to the DNR for final approval.