Water talks need light of day
By Tom Murphy
Green Bay News-Chronicle
There's something about the potable water situation in
greater Green Bay that needs to see the light of day.
It's no secret that a regional resolution, along the
lines of the Metropolitan Sewerage District, is the ideal
We're proud to have preached that idea for nearly five
years. So when both local daily newspapers - the News-Chronicle
and Press-Gazette, who disagree more than they agree -
endorse the concept, it must have merit. Running three
pipelines (Green Bay needs a second line with or without
the suburbs) to Lake Michigan is ludicrous.
So, while it is not too late for the metropolitan solution,
it certainly is within the eleventh hour. Add some of
the constant dissonants on the City Council, and it's
close to midnight. Like the News-Chronicle said, "Who
will be the courageous person to make the first substantive
And what's with Ashwaubenon?
When the Central Brown County Water Authority was formed
several years ago, Ashwaubenon was the largest user among
the 10 suburban members. It still is.
But when it comes to Authority leadership, Ashwaubenon
took a back seat. This is in direct conflict with the
role the community normally assumed in suburban relationships.
A King of the Hill attitude was not foreign to Ashwaubenon
officials. When it came to suburban issues, Ashwaubenon
most often assumed the leadership mantle. Not so with
Our theory about Ashwaubenon and Green Bay is conjecture
because few, if any, will speak on the record. Plus, it
has been pooh-poohed by a former insider in Green Bay
City Hall. We take his throw-away manner with a grain
That theory: Ashwaubenon and Green Bay cut a deal on
drinking several years ago. It started with planning for
the expansion and renovation of Lambeau Field. The former
cornfield was annexed from Ashwaubenon by the city prior
to the 1957 construction of City Stadium II.
Green Bay's sanitary sewer system could not handle the
flow increase expected from an additional 10,000 fans
at Lambeau Field. And to upgrade miles of system for 10-12
days use made no economic sense.
Ashwaubenon, with larger pipes and plenty of available
capacity, could easily handle the increase.
The village said it would take the flow if...
We think the finished sentence says something like: "...if
we can strike a deal on low-cost drinking water."
It was the same divide-and-conquer tactic that Green
Bay later used with the Town of Scott: Let us annex some
farmland for a new business park and we'll sell you water
at city rates.
The Ashwaubenon theory may be conjecture. But given the
city's statement that the village is "the crown jewel"
among the suburbs, the chances of misstatement are lessened.
So, too, are some of the village's weak-kneed excuses
for pulling out of the Authority, its parameters for rejoining,
and its offer to go-it-alone with Green Bay.
Adding to the theory is Green Bay's fright when the Authority
considered asking the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin
to step in. The Authority wanted an independent look at
the size of the city's second pipeline to the lake proposal
and the resulting price-per-1,000 gallons.
When it learned the PSC might enter the fray and offer
a resolution, Green Bay withdrew its proposal for a second
line to the lake.
A news report last week, mostly full of holes, contends
the city now might ask the PSCW to look into Manitowoc's
much lower offer to the Authority.
One of the reasons Ashwaubenon gave for pulling out of
CBCWA was that it would have only one vote on the utility
board even though it was the largest user. Ashwaubenon
knew that from the get-go three years ago.
So how many votes did Ashwaubenon wind up with after
it dumped the Authority and said it would make a separate
deal with Green Bay?
So what? The price was right. The Lambeau Field trade-off
would have the city to sell Ashwaubenon potable water
at a lower price than the other suburbs.
Then, after the Authority accepted Manitowoc's offer
rather than the exorbitant Green Bay deal, Ashwaubenon
really lowered the boom on its former comrades.
The village said it would rejoin if other Authority members
paid for all the piping and treatment from Lake Michigan
and it only had to pay for water. Such a deal!
That left the Authority's remaining members (Allouez,
Bellevue, De Pere, Howard, Lawrence and Ledgeview) to
take up Manitowoc's offer.
Those six communities, which geographically are larger
than Green Bay and Ashwaubenon (and have the potential
to outgrow them) will own their own line to the lake and
pay $1.26 per 1,000 gallons less than Green Bay's rate:
39 cents per 1,000 vs. $1.65. In total, the suburbs will
pay about the same for water and delivery and own the
pipeline. The city's offer is for water only.
Too, the Authority may sell water to communities along
the way from Manitowoc to help reduce the cost of bonding.
And the group may accept new members at the going rate
(not unlike how a metropolitan authority would be put
together today if it were not for the imperious).
So Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt (who deserves better but
was dealt a losing hand by the imperious commissioners
he replaced on the utility board) is left with one heckuva
mess for the city's 150th birthday present.
Because Green Bay needs another pipeline to Lake Michigan
(l) to account for growth and (2) to augment the 43-year
old present system, city fathers owe it to their ratepayers
to do so at the least possible cost.
The city's initial idea was to have the suburbs pay for
the new line. This would keep the imperious water commissioners
and council members at bay. It would minimize cost increases
to commercial and residential users.
This obviously laid too much of the cost at the suburbs'
doorstep. And it was magnified with the deals already
cut with Ashwaubenon and a portion of Scott.
But Manitowoc came along and blew the imperious commissioners
right out of the water. (Pun intended.)
Now the city and Ashwaubenon can built the second line
themselves. And suburbs can build and own their own line
and pay less for the finished product.
Running three pipelines to Lake Michigan borders on the
delirious. But Green Bay made its bed and can sleep in
Or it can regain common sense and build, in cooperation
with all interested, a true metropolitan water authority.
In fact, the city and suburbs would do well to give the
entire kit and caboodle to the Metropolitan Sewerage District.
The MSD already has right-of-way and pipes as far northeast
as the Door County line and as far east as Luxemburg.
Plus, the MSD knows how to operate a metropolitan system.
Where some see municipal boundaries as high as the Great
Wall of China, the MSD simply proceeds underground. That's
the way is should be.