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3 Lake Michigan Mayors Question Waukesha Over Water Diversion Application

Oak Creek's appointed mayor signs letter that Waukesha council president feels followed Milwaukee's lead.

The mayors of the three Lake Michigan communities that have been identified as possible water suppliers to Waukesha sent Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima and Common Council President Paul Ybarra, questioning them about the city’s conservation measures, rate increase requests and water service area.

“Due to the precedent setting nature of Waukesha’s diversion application under the Great Lakes Compact, we feel a great responsibility to ensure that our decisions and our actions are protective of Lake Michigan and its tributary streams,” the letter states. “It is important that the City of Waukesha understand that our three communities agree that the issues identified in this letter are important to all who will participate in any future discussions and negotiations.

All three communities are competitors against one another as Waukesha seeks a new water source, although Milwaukee authorities have not yet started negotiating with Waukesha.

The information that the mayors – Tom Barrett from Milwaukee, appointed Mayor Al Foeckler of Oak Creek and John Dickert of Racine – have requested are in the city’s Great Lakes water application and frequently asked questions document that are on the city’s website, according to y General Manager Dan Duchniak.

However, the water utility will respond to their questions and will draft a response, Duchniak said.

“We have been having very good discussions with Oak Creek and Racine so far,” said Duchniak about negotiations. “Unfortunately, we have not had any discussions with Milwaukee. We hope those start soon.”

Water utility officials hope to have completed negotiations this summer to go before the Waukesha Common Council for approval.

Ybarra said he was surprised by the letter, especially because of the ongoing negotiations with Oak Creek and Racine where residents could their water bills reduced by 25 percent by selling water to Waukesha, depending on the outcome of the negotiations.

It seemed like Foeckler, who was appointed as Oak Creek mayor after Mayor Dick Bolender’s death, and Dickert were “following Milwaukee’s lead” in the letter to Waukesha, Ybarra said.

“I think they would want to be independent and aggressively pursue this instead of following the rank and file of Milwaukee,” Ybarra said.

Ybarra originally would not comment on the issue, according to a Journal Sentinel article, yielding to Scrima. Scrima, who did not speak with the Journal Sentinel, originally had forwarded the letter from Milwaukee officials to the Journal Sentinel staff, the story states. Scrima e-mailed this response to Patch:

Although the citizens elected me largely because of the water issue, the Council has stated that they do not want me part of the water negotiating team. Therefore out of respect for the Council I will not be commenting at this time, other than to say that because the citizens value transparency that the Patch ought to include the entire letter from Milwaukee, Oak Creek and Racine into this story.

The three Lake Michigan mayors also refused to comment on the letter, according to the Journal Sentinel.

Waukesha Water Utility officials hope that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will complete its two-year review of its application to obtain Lake Michigan water and forward it to other Great Lakes states for approval. Already working on a tight timetable to finish the water project by the June 2018 deadline, the water utility anticipates a decision from all the Great Lakes states by the end of the year.

The water utility would like to see negotiations completed by July with the three communities. That would allow the Common Council to make its ultimate decision by January 2013.  Construction would begin in June 2014, if all moves forward.

Robert Merlin March 08, 2012 at 11:33 AM
wouldn't they still need permision from the Great lakes compact?
Sarah Millard (Editor) March 08, 2012 at 04:01 PM
Robert, yes, they still need that and are going through the approval process right now. However, they are also doing negotiations at the same time so they can have everything ready to go when a final decision is made.
Reese March 09, 2012 at 12:06 AM
That is an amazing letter. What's clairvoyant from the Mayors is that the Waukesha diversion application doesn't pass the smell test, will likely be disected to a much greater extent by each state, and not be passed. One would get the impression that not one of these communities is willing to stick another dime into the Waukesha Water Utility's pipe dream. They all point to the same conclusion - your cost estimates are the result of a value engineered project. With any more strigent requirements the local options will be more cost effective. And, by-the-way, SEWRPC says you have plenty of water through 2035...see ya then. Interesting how the Waukesha Common Council president and the 2 person negotiating team will be left holding the bag, and will be responsible for wasting the Waukesha taxpayers time and money.
vocal local 1 March 10, 2012 at 06:57 AM
Where is the letter? OC resident water/sewer bills are higher than the communities we sell water to. We’d love to see a decrease in utility bills but we never do we only see increases. For over a year several Racine and OC residents have received bottled water and other compensation for well contamination suspect from the coal ash. OC has not expanded the infra-structure to provide residents with safe clean water or sewer for failing septic systems and has no plans I’m aware of to. OC sells water to Racine but Racine can sell to Waukesha? Is this another local political scheme to increase water utility revenues? No, I do not think Foeckler should have the authority to commit the city to future water delivery across the Continental Divide when we the resident's don't have a clue as to what is really going on. Oak Creek's elected officials for the past ten years, under the rule of Czar Bolendar have operated with a secret agenda doing almost all business in closed session. Things have not changed with the appointment of Foeckler and if Scaffidi is elected we'll see more of the same as his voting record establishes his penchant for these types of behind doors dirty deals, exploitation of others and self service. VOTERS BEWARE, you should demand transparency and your rights to be fully informed.

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