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