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Great Lakes Article:

Street talk: Water, water...anywhere?
By Tom Murphy
Green Bay News-Chronicle
08/10/03


Deadlines what they are, the entire Green Bay/suburban water situation could be moot by the time this arrives before your eyes. But if we were betting, the odds against resolution right now are at least 5-to-1.

The situation deteriorated rapidly last week, then rebounded. Which side won in the agreement to return to negotiations is blatantly unclear at this point.

With help from self-annointed insiders, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said it could not extend radium deadlines beyond 2006. That is, an agency person said, the EPA rule.

Whoa!

States have the ability to requests variances and compliance deadline extensions from the EPA. They are granted more often than not; especially for good cause such as the current and unnecessary standoff between Green Bay and its more populous suburbs.

(There was quite a hustle and bustle in the early and mid-1980s when DNR flexed its muscle and ordered limestone-rich public water systems to clean up or close down. Common sense prevailed. The agency went on to other things.)

Green Bay also likes the divide-and-conquer route. It's a decimating tactic.

The city, in effect, bribed the Town of Scott out of the suburban water group by giving it water in return for annexation of acreage for a new business and industrial park.

It will be interesting to see what shenanigans the politically minded have when it comes to the deep well request of Pioneer Metal Finishing in Ashwabenon. More divide-and-conquer, we suspect.

Pioneer, afraid it will pay through the nose for whatever agreement is made for more Lake Michigan water, wants the DNR to okay a private deep well to meet its needs. Right now, Georgia-Pacific/Fort James/Fort Howard draws down the aquifer mightily with its own deep well. The companies aren't more than two miles apart. Two in the same hole could be trouble.

Green Bay (primarily through Mayor Sam Halloin) initially argued that if the city shared an expanded water supply with the suburbs, it would lose business and industrial development. Nothing of the sort happened.

But the theme was echoed at mid-week by a most vocal member of the city commission. "Is there a business motivation to encourage suburban commercial and residential expansion for their own narrow self-interest?" asked the commissioner.

The person has been around long enough (he ran unsuccessfully in a State Assembly primary in the 1950s) to know that De Pere's west side business park has grown spectacularly simply because of location, location, location.

That city's east side industrial area also has grown mightly, although it doesn't match the park across the river.

Ashwaubenon's very large industrial area kept pace with Green Bay's Packerland and 1-43 business parks because of adroit (and debatable) use of tax increment financing laws.

As a reason for locating a business, it was the cost of land, tax concessions and proximity to transportation that lured business to De Pere and Ashwaubenon. Water was well down the list. If water had been more of a priority, Green Bay's consolidation with Preble would have taken care of concerns.

There seems to be plenty of blame to spread for the inordinate delay in resolving the potable water issue. Most of it already has been distributed in this column.

Like Richard Parins of the Brown County Taxpayers Association suggested recently, perhaps its time, past time, if you will, that property taxpayers (who will soon get a healthy dose of Gov. Doyle's intransigence - up more than 7 percent, one study says) step up and demand politicians and their appointed boards shed their collective cloaks of superiority and do the will of the people: solve the water issue once and for all for the benefit of all.

Because of those deadlines mentioned above, we're unable to comment on Thursday's meeting among the suburban and city negotiators. It was the latest in dozens and dozens of sessions.

Current Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt recently said the city could not accept the suburban Authority's proposal for a new 66-inch main because of "engineering" technicalities. They never were explained by the city; simply accepted by the media.

Now the Water Commission is up in arms because the Authority simply wants Public Service Commission of Wisconsin to assure that Green Bay doesn't overbuild its lines and force the suburbs to pay for the reserve. That reserve is the city's annexation lure with Eaton, Humboldt, et al. It's the commissioner's "business motivation" theory in reverse.

Nor is it an "end around," as Schmitt described it. It is simply a guarantee that the suburbs will get what they pay for and the realization that running three new lines to the lake is just the other side of ridiculous.

In light of the suburbs' questionable decision not to get service-at-a-price guarantees from the PSC, we more than ever believe the solution is simple: create a metropolitan water service utility with the Metropolitian Sewerage District as the model.

But those powers that be (some of whom have lots of other stuff on their plates) likely say it's too late to have the accountants determine exactly how much each municipality has invested in its system. Nontheless, the equities could be determined and credits and debits apportioned.

One way or the other, users will pay. Why shouldn't those payments be equitable? Green Bay's argument that it was wiser than most (except for Preble, suburbs were virtually non-existent when the city initially went to Lake Michigan are true. But that line needs help and Green Bay needs more water. Plus, its aging infrastructure can use the financial help provided with a broader base of payees.

Interestingly, the News-Chronicle last week ran a legal notice for the utility seeking bids by Aug. 26 for construction of a "54/66" diameter parallel raw water transmission main. Why two? Could it be that water commissioners are posing for holy pictures? They know full well they need the suburbs to offset costs for their much-needed capacity increase. Will they admit it? Heck, no.

Some on the city commission last week advanced a scatter-brained, stop-gap suggestion that the city utility spend $20 million to expand its treatment plant and upgrade pumps. A 20-year solution at best Ugh.

It's time a leader steps forward and gets the kids out of the sandbox.

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