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Great Lakes Article:

Waukesha calls off legal fight against water standards
Chances for Supreme Court success were slim, officials say
By Ryan Amundson
The Waukesha Freeman

WAUKESHA - A small chance of success has prompted city officials to end their legal fight against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over radium standards in municipal drinking water.
"We’re not going to pursue (litigation) recognizing the amount of time and money spent through the years," Waukesha Mayor Carol Lombardi said.

In closed session at Tuesday’s common council meeting, the council decided against petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to extend the fight that has been waged for years against the federal regulatory agency.

"The question was what are the odds of prevailing?" Alderman James Ripplinger said after the meeting. "The answer was so small."

In February, a U.S. Appeals Court in Washington D.C. upheld the EPA’s standards for radium in drinking water. Those standards allow for 5 picocuries of radium per liter of drinking water. Last year, the Waukesha Water Utility reported an average of 8.5 picocuries per liter.

Since that decision was handed down, City Attorney Curt Meitz has consulted outside sources to examine the feasibility of bringing the case to the Supreme Court.

Alderwoman Kathleen Cummings said the prevailing thought was to stop bringing litigation.

"I listened to the city attorney’s recommendation and concurred," she said.

The odds of getting the case in front of the Supreme Court were slim. Shortly after the appeals court decision was handed down, Meitz said only about 1 percent of petitions presented to the high court are argued.

"There was very little chance the Supreme Court would listen," Ripplinger said. "The odds are so small, there’s no reason to pursue it anymore."

The city’s decision to forgo any further litigation comes only weeks after the Waukesha Water Utility decided against pursuing further action against the EPA.

Since 2002, the city has spent more than $500,000 in legal consultation fees while pursuing the case. Ripplinger said it would be hard to determine how much more bringing the case before the Supreme Court would cost taxpayers since most attorneys charge by the hour.

Without pursuing further court action, the city must now comply with federal standards. A plan for compliance must be submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources by December.

Waukesha Water Utility General Manager Dan Duchniak has said that finding alternate ground water sources, getting drinking water from Lake Michigan and treating the water now being pumped from deep-water aquifers are all options. Those options are estimated to cost between $50 million to $135 million.

To help defray the cost, the city and water utility sent a letter to local legislators requesting $20 million to help implement such a source. Officials in the offices of U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., and U.S. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said they had not received the letter.

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