Tag Archives: waukesha

Records show Trump released tax returns when he stood to gain

Donald Trump won’t publicly release his income tax returns but records reveal the New York businessman turned them over when it suited his needs.

The Associated Press is reporting that Trump provided his returns when he stood to make a profit, needed a loan or when dealing with legal matters.

The news service reports that Pennsylvania gaming regulators were given at least five years’ worth and eight boxes full of Trump’s tax documents.

Also, Nevada, Michigan, Missouri, Indiana and other state gaming officials had access to multiple years of Trump’s returns.

And large banks that lent Trump money over the years have obtained Trump’s returns.

In all cases reviewed by The Associated Press, each person, organization, company or government office that has seen Trump’s tax returns is barred from discussing their full contents by professional or legal restrictions.

So the public still knows little about Trump’s more recent finances.

At a press event today in Waukesha, Wisconsin Democrats plan to call on Trump to release his tax returns.

An announcement from Hillary Clinton’s campaign said the event at noon at the Waukesha DNC headquarters would involve Democratic supporters, including state Rep. Mandela Barnes.

In the debate earlier this week, Clinton questioned whether Trump’s tax returns might reveal that he has paid little or no taxes. Trump said he was “smart” for not paying federal income taxes in some years.

Documents first reported on by Politico show Trump didn’t pay any federal income tax during at least two years in the early 1990s because he lost more money than he earned.

Other documents show he didn’t pay any federal income taxes in 1978, 1979 and 1984.

Trump has repeatedly refused to release his tax returns citing an IRS audit, but the IRS and tax experts have said an audit doesn’t bar Trump from making the documents public.

Since 1976, every major party nominee has released the returns and Clinton has publicly released nearly 40 years’ worth.

Trump’s tax returns would reveal his charitable contributions. The AP has reported that there is little record of substantial personal philanthropy from Trump.

The returns would also reveal how much Trump earned from his assets, helping someone work back to an approximation of his net worth to compare to his own estimation.

Great Lakes states OK diversion of Lake Michigan water

A panel of governors on a Great Lakes regional council on June 21 has approved a request from Waukesha to divert water from Lake Michigan.

A Great Lakes compact prohibits most diversions of water outside the watershed boundaries, but allows for communities such as Waukesha, which straddles a border, to request an exemption.

Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly, in a press statement, thanked the Great Lakes governors and their representatives. “Today’s vote is an enormous accomplishment for the people of Waukesha, after more than a decade of work,” he said. “The regional commitment to implementing the requirements of the Great Lakes Compact is also a victory for protecting this tremendous resource.

“The same states and provinces that authored the compact and who adopted laws to implement it, have determined that the Waukesha application meets the compact’s standards for borrowing Great Lakes water. We greatly appreciate the good faith they showed in focusing on the facts and science of our application.”

The city’s request was challenged by a number of environmental groups that said Waukesha has other alternatives and options to address problems with its drinking water.

“There are a lot of emotions and politics surrounding this issue but voting yes — in cooperation with our Great Lakes neighbors — is the best way to conserve one of our greatest natural resources,” Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said, according to the AP. “Mandating strict conditions for withdrawing and returning the water sets a strong precedent for protecting the Great Lakes.”

Waukesha had received an endorsement of its request last month from a panel for eight Great Lakes states — Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — and also the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

The endorsement came with conditions, including the requirement that Waukesha reduce the volume of water it would withdraw from 10.1 million gallons a day to 8.2 million gallons and a day. The city also must reduce the area to get the Lake Michigan water.

The Wisconsin Compact Implementation Coalition, consisting of environmental organizations in the state, issued a statement on June 21 expressing appreciation for the serious review given the application.

“We especially appreciate how the regional body and compact council heeded the concern, echoed by tens of thousands of Great Lakes residents, that Waukesha’s inclusion of neighboring communities in its original application did not meet the requirements of the Great Lakes Compact. We have no doubt that the extent of public engagement across the Great Lakes states, together with the advocacy efforts of our regional environmental partners, contributed to improvements in the diversion proposal ultimately approved by the compact council.”

The coalition, however, expressed continued concern that the council “did not fully resolve other flaws in Waukesha’s proposal to ensure that this precedent-setting application meets all of the rigorous requirements laid out in the Great Lakes Compact. We continue to believe the compact council should have denied Waukesha’s proposal to divert Great Lakes water until the remaining areas of non-compliance were remedied.”

The coalition — Clean Wisconsin, Midwest Environmental Advocates, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Waukesha County Environmental Action League, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and also attorney Peter McAvoy’s firm — continued, “While we acknowledge that Waukesha must address the radium in its drinking water, we maintain Waukesha can safely meet its community’s drinking water needs now and well into the future without a diversion from the Great Lakes. In fact, in light of the conditions approved today that rightly reduce the area served and the amount of water originally requested by Waukesha, the evidence that Waukesha has a reasonable water supply alternative is even stronger. Regrettably, the Compact Council also has chosen to leave unaddressed a number of other concerns voiced by our coalition and citizens across the Great Lakes basin, including lack of a sufficient monitoring plan for return flow through the Root River, no reduction in the maximum amount of water Waukesha can draw from the Great Lakes from 16.7 million gallons per day, and failure to require a new needs analysis with the reduced diversion area.”

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.

On the Web

Details on the application.

Public record: majority opposes Waukesha quest to divert water

More than 99 percent of those who registered comments in a regional review explicitly opposed or expressed concern over Waukesha’s request to divert Great Lakes water.

More than 11,200 public comments were submitted to the Regional Body and Compact Council on the issue and many opposed the proposal, according to a review of the comments completed by a coalition of environmental groups — the Compact Implementation Coalition consists of River Alliance of Wisconsin, National Wildlife Federation, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Midwest Environmental Advocates and Clean Wisconsin.

The coalition said of the 315 tribes, First Nations, governments, elected leaders, organizations and associations that submitted or signed on to comments regarding Waukesha’s application, 256 explicitly opposed, expressed concern or had unanswered questions about the city of Waukesha’s application.

Also, in six of the eight Great Lakes states and both Canadian provinces, not a single tribe, First Nation, government, elected leader, organization or association submitted or signed on to a comment explicitly supporting Waukesha’s application.

“Anyone paying attention to the polarized nature of today’s political climate knows this level of agreement across political divides and international boundaries is nothing short of astounding,” said Jodi Habush Sinykin of Midwest Environmental Advocates. “The extent of public concern and outcry shown, speaks to how important this first-of-its-kind regional decision will be seen by citizens throughout the Great Lakes region.”

Waukesha, located about 17 miles west of Lake Michigan, wants to divert water from Lake Michigan. To do so, the Milwaukee suburb needs an exception from the Great Lakes compact and agreement that restrict diversions outside the Great Lakes Basin. The city lies outside the Great Lakes basin but is in a county that straddles the basin.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources completed its review of the city’s application earlier this year and sent the issue on to the Great Lakes states and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec for consideration.

A regional public comment period on the application review closed in mid-March.

Next the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin Regional Body and Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin Compact Council — composed of the eight Great Lakes governors and two Canadian premiers — will meet to reach a decision on the application.

The meeting is expected in April. The eight Great Lakes governors are allowed to vote. The council could approve, deny or approve with conditions the application. Only one “no” vote is required to deny the application.

“The public has definitely spoken on this topic, and we feel strongly those voices need to be heard,” said Jennifer Bolger Breceda of Milwaukee Riverkeeper. “We hope this outpouring signals to the Regional Body and Compact Council that they need to take these many, many concerns into consideration while reviewing this flawed proposal and deny Waukesha’s diversion request.”

On the Web

For more information about the application, visit www.protectourgreatlakes.org and http://www.waukeshadiversion.org.

Waukesha’s water grab should be rejected

If the city of Waukesha has its way, a dangerous precedent will be set for the entire Great Lakes region.

This Wisconsin community wants the Great Lakes governors to sign off on a first-of-its-kind diversion application that fails to meet the letter and spirit of the Great Lakes Compact, a much heralded regional agreement signed into federal law in 2008.

In recognition that the Great Lakes remain a critically important natural resource to the region at large, the compact categorically bans diversions of Great Lakes water except under extremely limited circumstances and then only to communities that have no other reasonable options. This is not the case with Waukesha.

In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency identified Waukesha as one of more than 50 Wisconsin communities with too much radium in its water. These committees were asked to take action to make their water safe to drink by 2006. Most did so, but not the city of Waukesha.

Unlike the dozens of other Wisconsin communities that invested in radium treatment and other reasonable solutions, Waukesha chose to look to the Great Lakes, one of our region’s most precious and fragile freshwater resources, to bail it out.

What’s more, Waukesha’s proposed Great Lakes diversion option promises to cost $150 million more than a non-diversion alternative, which would enable Waukesha to meet its drinking water needs by adding common-sense, available treatment technologies to its deep groundwater wells, while continuing to use its shallow wells.

Moreover, it appears that Waukesha’s diversion application is based not on the needs of its current city residents, but rather on the purported needs of households, and portions of other neighboring communities, included in a far larger water supply service area created by a state planning law. This expanded water supply service area almost doubles the size of the city’s current water supply service area.

Nowhere does the Great Lakes compact allow for a diversion based on the possible future needs of expanded service areas. And the households and commercial entities located within this expanded area fail to meet two of the compact’s central requirements: they have not shown any real need for Great Lakes water nor demonstrated significant water conservation efforts to date.

Wisconsin’s reliance on a state planning law designed to foster growth as justification for this contentious, expanded water supply service area is equally misplaced, because the provisions of the Great Lakes Compact inarguably trump state law.

Finally, beyond its failure to comply with core compact requirements, Waukesha’s diversion application shows a blatant disregard for the people of Racine, a city struggling in a different and far greater scale than the city of Waukesha. It is Racine that will be forced to bear the public health risks and clean-up costs relating to Waukesha’s return of partially treated wastewater through the Root River, which runs through the heart of Racine and empties into the city’s Lake Michigan harbor. This is simply wrong.

In order to secure the protection and viability of our magnificent Great Lakes for generations to come, the Great Lakes governors on the Compact Council must ensure that the core principles of the Great Lakes Compact are fully and truly honored. For its shortcomings and missteps, Waukesha’s application must be denied.

Jodi Habush Sinykin is an attorney with Midwest Environmental Advocates, a Madison-based nonprofit group that works to protect water resources. The group is a member of the Compact Implementation Coalition.


Waukesha diversion of Lake Michigan water moves forward


The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources announced plans to forward with a formal review of the City of Waukesha’s application to divert Lake Michigan water.

More than 3,000 Great Lakes citizens, more than 70 Great Lakes legislators, over a dozen environmental and social justice organizations and tribes from across the region have written the WDNR urging them to deny Waukesha’s application as it stands. Yet the increasingly politicized  WDNR has decided the application is approvable.

But the approval process is far from over, as the Regional Body and Great Lakes Compact Council must first conduct a formal regional review process.

”The governor of Wisconsin and the WDNR have a right to submit an application for a diversion from the Great Lakes. But it will have to be demonstrably different than what the state put out a few months ago to meet the requirements of the Great Lakes Compact. This is the first major test of the compact, which is designed to protect the Great Lakes, and the seven Great Lakes governors and two Canadian premiers will have to decide whether each of them believes the application meets the condition of the Great Lakes Compact,” said Peter McAvoy, an attorney working with the Compact Implementation Coalition. 

Once submitted, the application will be reviewed by the regional body, which consists of the eight Great Lakes governors and two Canadian premiers. The Compact Council, which is made up of only the eight Great Lakes governors, will then either approve or deny the application, taking into account the regional body’s findings. The Regional Body and Compact Council review will include at least a 45-day public comment period and a public hearing in Wisconsin, where citizens across the Great Lakes region will again be able to voice their concerns-this time to a wider audience.

The City of Waukesha maintains its claim that it does not have a reasonable water supply alternative to Lake Michigan water, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. If the City of Waukesha implements minimum conservation measures in its own conservation plan, excludes portions of communities that do not need and have publicly stated they do not want Great Lakes water, and adds treatment technologies to three of seven deep groundwater wells, while continuing to use its shallow wells, it will have a reasonable water supply alternative. This alternative costs $150 million less than a diversion, secures water independence for Waukesha residents, protects public health, and minimizes adverse environmental impacts.

”Our main concern has always been that the process laid out in the cis followed and the provisions are honored. The City of Waukesha’s application does not meet the high bar the compact sets for Great Lakes diversions. For that reason, we continue to believe the City of Waukesha’s application is not in the best interest of the Great Lakes region and the protection of one of our most vital natural resources,” said Cheryl Nenn, Milwaukee Riverkeeper.

The WDNR is expected to submit the official application as approvable. There will be a public briefing on Jan. 7, during which citizens can call-in to listen. Shortly after, the public comment period will begin and a public hearing will be held in Wisconsin. The Compact Implementation Coalition encourages all Great Lakes citizens to submit comments and attend the public hearing and testify. 

Terror abounds at the Wisconsin Fear Grounds

What’s the scariest haunted house in the country?

Ask a lot of people, and you’ll get a horror movie-ready response: right behind you.

The house in question is the Wisconsin Fear Grounds in Waukesha, which consistently ranks as one of the top haunted houses in the United States. Haunted Attraction magazine gave it the No. 1 spot for Wisconsin and the nation at large, while USA Today readers have placed it as high as second place in a still-ongoing contest.

For such a spooky place, the Fear Grounds started small. Husband and wife duo Tim and Ann Marie Gavinski started it all with an annual small spook house in their garage, for their neighbors, before making the big, scary investment.

“Tim was nearing retirement,” Ann Marie says. “And one day I asked him, ‘What’s next?’ Tim replied, ‘I want to start a haunted house.’”

In 2004, beginning with a $55,000 investment to build and a matching amount in advertising, they opened their first haunt — The House of Darkness — at the Walworth County Fairgrounds. The people’s need for entertainment that could provide fear-induced shots of adrenaline grew and the Gavinskis subsequently expanded to the Waukesha Expo Center.

When you visit the Fear Grounds, Ann Marie says, “You know you’re going to get a great scare. We put on a huge theatrical production. We have 100 monsters every single night.

“I would never ask our actors to do anything I wouldn’t do and we’ve done it all. I have to give credit to the great people who work here — we wouldn’t succeed without their dedication and willingness to come back year after year.”
The whole thing starts in August, when methodically packed trailers are unloaded and a crew of 12 carpenters assembles the four houses. The entire Fear Grounds encompass 55,000 square feet.

As there are multiple houses in one location, the Fear Grounds are more like a haunted sub-division. Compared to the 3,500 other haunted houses in the United States, it’s unique in that regard.

The Gavinskis recommend at least 90 minutes for the full set, if you can make it through them all.

No self-respecting modern haunt would be complete without zombies. So, if you have a thing for The Walking Dead, try out Revenge Paintball. It’s the chance to hone your zombie kill skills before the Apocalypse and a way to entertain kids under 10, who aren’t allowed into the haunted houses. 

If all the terror scares up your appetite, don’t worry. The Fear Grounds offer carnival-style food — including hamburgers, hot dogs, cider, popcorn and caramel corn.

The Fear Grounds are open Friday and Saturday through October, as well as Sunday, Oct. 25, and Thursday, Oct. 29. If you somehow miss that wide window, you can swing by Nov. 13. That’s when the Gavinskis will reopen the houses for the annual TransWorld & Netherworld Haunted House three-day Legendary Haunt Tour, and they’re inviting the public to join 7:30-9 p.m.

Ticket prices depend on which houses you want to enter and how fast you want to get to them all. Morgan Manor is $13, while Morgana’s Escape is $30. The Three-Hunt Combo Pass is $30 ($20 if you reserve tickets online and arrive between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.), but that requires you to wait in line, usually an hour or more. To skip the lines, you can get a Morgana Manor Speed Pass ($25) or Three-Hunt Combo Speed Pass ($45). To reserve tickets or for more details, visit wisconsinfeargrounds.com.

Fear Grounds Houses

Morgan Manor: All things ghoulish and terrifying orbit around Morgana and her eight sisters, who have a twisted thing for terrorizing people in their old Victorian manor. There are the obligatory jump-out-at-you moments of frightening fun — it’s a classic old-school haunt. One of the most startling moments occurs in the Green House.

Unstable: Grip your friend’s hand tightly and hurry through the dead cornstalks to the stables where the horses and barnyard animals are kept. Gentle reader, a spoiler alert: Make sure you’re into blood and gore before you embark.

CarnEvil of Torment: This “three ring circus of evil” is based on the premise of a traveling freak show of yesteryear. If you are at all claustrophobic or afraid of the dark, be forewarned: This house immerses you in total darkness and challenges you to work your way out of the obstacle course yourself (if you can’t handle it, just say, “I quit” and you will be escorted out, although you will have to pass through a personalized “Hall of Shame”).

Morgana’s Escape: The final house — new this year — is an interactive escape game. Fright seekers are locked in a room and given clues and puzzles. They must solve the riddles, locate three keys and unlock the doors or “abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

Expanding needs keep Waukesha humane society growing

Since 1965, the Humane Animal Welfare Society in Waukesha has been reuniting lost pets with their owners. It’s still doing that today, but also much, much more.

At the time HAWS was founded, there was no central resource in the area to help people looking for missing pets. In fact, 35 separate jurisdictions in the county handled that task — all of them with varying hours, policies and procedures.

That haphazard scenario was so frustrating that it prompted “a group of very passionate dog lovers to get together and create a centralized location,” says HAWS development coordinator Jennifer Smieja.

In the beginning, the organization was simply a phone number staffed by a network of volunteers. In 1969, the group opened its first building and, ever since then, it’s been growing — both in physical size and in the range of programs and services it offers.

Next spring, the organization plans to break ground on its sixth expansion. This one will support several much-needed functions.

For one, it will create more space for HAWS’ spay/neuter program. HAWS already performs 3,200-plus such operations annually — most of them on cats — and the expansion will help the organization achieve its goal of ending Waukesha County’s cat overpopulation in the next decade. 

The expansion also will enlarge HAWS’s training and rehabilitation program, which works with shelter dogs to make them better adoption candidates and to ameliorate behavioral problems that cause owners to get rid of their pets.

“We want people to work with their pet if it’s only a small problem that can be worked out,” Smieja says. 

In addition, the new construction will help fulfill the growing need for flexible space that can be altered to create habitats that can comfortably accommodate a diverse range of critters.

Smieja says HAWS’ staff never knows what might crawl through the door. Over the years, HAWS has dealt with alligators, sheep, snakes, a miniature donkey and a wallaby — to name but a few.

The most unusual collection of animals arrived in March. That’s when public officials conducting a wellness check on a Sunday morning discovered more than 300 chinchillas in an area home. Officials contacted HAWS, whose staff sprang into action, with many giving up their Sunday to convert an area of the shelter into a suitable space that could accommodate all the lush-haired critters, which are about the size of a hedgehog.

Ultimately, HAWS was able to find suitable homes for 270 chinchillas. The owners of the animals are suing the shelter to retrieve 50 of the little animals, but HAWS is fighting the suit. Shelter officials maintain the owners are hoarders with a history of failing to provide adequate care to the animals. Smieja says that her group hopes to adopt out the remaining chinchillas to responsible homes once the suit is over.

“They are adorable — cute and fuzzy — but they’re not cuddly until they’ve been bonded with people,” Smieja says.

They’re very active chewers. So active, in fact, that HAWS asks people to donate their empty toilet paper rolls to the shelter for the chinchillas to gnaw on.

Chinchillas aside, HAWS’ staff, which fluctuates between 40 and 50 employees, assists about 8,000 animals a year. Some animals are surrendered by owners who can no long care for them, some are lost, and many, especially cats, are strays.

The organization is especially proud that 95 percent of lost dogs in the area are reunited with their owners through HAWS, according to Smieja.

But cats are a different story.

Residents of rural areas — and much of Waukesha County is rural — are accustomed to seeing cats roam, so they’re far less likely to report them to animal control agencies than they are to report stray dogs. People in suburban and urban areas often assume the cats they see wandering outdoors belong to someone.

But outdoor cats are mostly feral, and those that survive into adulthood have short and tragic lives. Even cats with homes die young and horrifically if they’re allowed unrestricted outdoor access. They’re struck by cars, eaten by coyotes, foxes and raptors, killed by dogs, infected with an array of diseases and mauled by other cats when they unwittingly slink into their territories. 

At the same time, outdoor cats damage local wildlife. Even when they’re not hungry, cats have irrepressible hunting instincts. Felines kill between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion birds in the continental U.S. each year, according to a 2013 study. 

Smieja, who’s both a cat and dog owner, says HAWS has aggressively promoted programs to protect cats and the environment. The organization’s Project Guardian provides free spay/neuter surgery to outdoor cats, including “working” cats on local farms, where the cat populations can grow quickly out of control. Feral cats are trapped by volunteers and then brought into HAWS, where they are spayed or neutered and then released back in the area where they were found.

Although the spay/neuter program for cats is free, Smieja says most people give a donation when they pick up their cats after surgery. Private donors also help to support the program.

The organization’s latest expansion will allow for the creation of an area just for cats. In conjunction with the opening of that space, HAWS will undertake what is perhaps its most ambitious program yet — to resolve the area’s cat overpopulation in the next decade.

“Considering that we’ve lowered the rate of cats coming in over 40 percent already, I think we can achieve that goal,” Smieja says. “Slowly, through education, there’s a growing level of awareness that cats shouldn’t be wandering or fending for themselves.”

By bringing the area’s cat population under control, training dogs to be better companions and creating a stress-free environment where potential adopters and adoptees can get to know each other without pressure, HAWs hopes to become a “no-kill” shelter in the near future.

You can help

Leave your paw print on the project.

About $750,000 of the estimated $1.2 million needed for HAWS’ expansion project has been raised, and the organization is looking for donations of all amounts — small and large. Make a one-time donation by going to HAWS’ homepage at hawspets.org and clicking on the News & Event Highlights tab, which contains a link to the expansion page. There, you can make a one-time donation, recurring donation or pledge. Send snail mail donations to HAWS Facility Expansion, P.O. Box 834, Waukesha, WI 53187-0834. For more about the project or to schedule a tour, contact Jessica Pinkos at  or phone her at 262-542-8851, ext. 112.

Waukesha’s quest to divert Lake Michigan water challenged

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources opened the floodgates and in poured opposition to Waukesha’s quest to divert water from Lake Michigan.

Waukesha argues that diversion is the only answer to a court order to improve water quality by June 2018 and to also meet expected demands for more water in the area.

However, opponents make economical, technical and environmental arguments against diversion and maintain that diverting Lake Michigan water to the suburbs would worsen segregation and increase racial disparities in the region.

And then there’s the issue of precedence. Dozens of lawmakers from Wisconsin and other Great Lakes states, along with scientists, attorneys, community activists and environmentalists, emphasize that Waukesha’s quest for diversion is a test case. Approval could lead to applications from other thirsty jurisdictions outside what is known as the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin, which is protected by a historic 2008 compact, as well as an agreement with the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

“What happens in Waukesha doesn’t stay in Waukesha,” said Marc Smith, policy director for the nonprofit National Wildlife Federation. “People from all across the Great Lakes region are concerned that Waukesha’s application does not meet the requirements of the Great Lakes Compact.”

The legislatures of the Great Lakes states — Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania — ratified the compact and Congress provided its consent. 

Waukesha is outside the basin, but Waukesha County straddles the basin and, according to the compact, a straddling county can request a diversion of water. 

Waukesha has been making — and revising — its case for diversion since at least 2010, when the city became the first municipality in the United States outside the basin to request a diversion under the 2008 compact.

Waukesha wants …

Waukesha, located 17 miles west of Lake Michigan, is under a 2009 court order to resolve naturally occurring radium contamination in its water supply by 2018. The city relies on a well system that draws from a deep sandstone aquifer but, according to the DNR’s summary of the application, “depressed water levels in the deep aquifer have compounded a problem of high radium concentration … in the groundwater.”

The city seeks to divert an annual average of 10.1 million gallons of water per day from Lake Michigan and a daily maximum of 16.7 million gallons by mid-century to accommodate a growing population and expansion.

The water would come from the Oak Creek Water Utility via a new pipeline.

After “consumptive use,” water would go to Waukesha’s wastewater treatment plant and then get discharged into the Root River and back into the Lake Michigan basin. 

The water supply and wastewater pipelines would be about 20 miles long and cost $207 million to build.

Waukesha’s application says its plan is “most protective of the environment — particularly regional ground and surface waters — and of public health.”

State says …

The DNR seems inclined to agree.

In June, the DNR said the application appears to meet key technical requirements and invited public comments on the proposal, as well as the DNR’s draft environmental impact statement.

“We appreciate the strong public interest surrounding this project,” stated Eric Ebersberger, section chief for water use in the DNR’s drinking and groundwater bureau.

After releasing the draft review, the state held a series of public hearings in Waukesha, Milwaukee and Racine and collected written comments.

“We were impressed but in no way surprised at the great turnout at all three public hearings,” said Cheryl Nenn, an official at Milwaukee Riverkeeper, a science-based advocacy organization. “This is an important issue for our state and our region and a decision that will affect people’s lives and our Great Lakes, which are only 1 percent renewable by rain or snowmelt. The number of people at the hearings sends a very clear message to the DNR that the public is taking this diversion decision very seriously and they should too.”

Ezra Meyer of the environmental group Clean Wisconsin said of the interest in the issue: “People from all across the Great Lakes Basin and across Wisconsin care about this world-class resource.”

Flood of opposition

In addition to the 500 or so people who attended the hearings, thousands wrote in response to he DNR’s call for public comment.

The Compact Implementation Coalition — member organizations include Milwaukee Riverkeeper, National Wildlife Federation, Midwest Environmental Advocates, Clean Wisconsin, Waukesha County Environmental Action League, River Alliance of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and attorney Peter McAvoy — helped people submit more than 2,600 comments challenging the application.

Also, a dozen legal and technical experts affiliated with the CIC filed a lengthy response to the application, arguing that Waukesha failed to:

• Justify why it needs to more than double its daily maximum water supply;

• Consider reasonable alternatives to provide potable water.

The CIC also said Waukesha wants to divert Great Lakes water for communities that do not need the water or that have not employed conservation measures.

Earlier in the summer, the CIC suggested a “Nondiversion Solution.” The proposal said Waukesha “can supply its growing population with safe, clean water, now and in the future, by blending deep- and shallow-aquifer water and updating its outdated technology to ‘best available’ technology for removing radium and other contaminants.” 

Waukesha, however, dismissed the “solution” as having critical flaws. In a news release, Waukesha Water Utility general manager Dan Duchniak said, “The proposal by our opponents fails to recognize environmental impacts, fails to supply the volume of water claimed, fails to comply with radium standards and fails to account for predictable costs.”

He said Waukesha only wants to “withdraw one one-millionth of 1 percent of Great Lakes water.”

Meyer, of Clean Wisconsin, said, “The bottom line is that Waukesha’s application doesn’t pass legal muster. The Great Lakes Compact does not allow diversions for future water use. … Waukesha admits that it doesn’t need the water now and is applying for future unknown, unsubstantiated water needs.”

Meyer called Waukesha’s proposal “fatally flawed” and noted strong grassroots opposition.

Allies in the fight include the Sierra Club, the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope and the NAACP-Milwaukee Branch.

The racial justice groups object to Waukesha’s application because diverting water to the suburbs will worsen segregation and racial disparities.

Waukesha, in its application, makes clear that it wants a diversion of water to accommodate growth — industrial, commercial and residential expansion.

Representatives with the racial justice groups say the planned growth means continued suburban sprawl and job migration from Milwaukee. This, said Fred Royal, president of Milwaukee’s NAACP branch, perpetuates racial and economic segregation “to the clear disadvantage of persons of color, especially African-Americans.”

“Thus far, the environmental impact study has utterly failed to address, much less resolve, the needs and concerns of communities of color,” added Karyn Rotker, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Wisconsin.

Dozens of Republican and Democratic lawmakers from the Great Lakes states also object to the application, making it clear that if the Wisconsin DNR sanctions diversion, approval remains a long shot. Support for diversion must be unanimous among the states in the compact.

“Since the compact was signed into law, this is the first time a community has asked for a diversion,” said Wisconsin state Rep. Cory Mason, D-Madison. “I think the reason so many legislators are concerned is because of a shared sense of needing to get this right.”

Great agreement

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact is a historic agreement among the eight Great Lakes states.

The agreement went into effect on Dec. 8, 2008, to protect habitat and wildlife from water diversions from the basin and promote water management within the basin.

An agreement among the Great Lakes states and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement also exists to protect natural resources.

Any diversion of water outside the basin must be reviewed for impact.

The first significant test to the compact is Waukesha’s request to divert water. The application is pending before the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

— L.N.

UPDATED: Racial justice advocates, environmentalists oppose water diversion to Waukesha

UPDATED: A coalition of progressive, racial justice groups in Wisconsin is opposing Waukesha’s quest to divert water from Lake Michigan.

The announcement was released on Aug. 28, meeting a deadline for public comment to the state on the issue.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources held three public hearings earlier in August to hear testimony on the city of Waukesha’s Great Lakes Water Diversion application and in response to the department’s release of its draft Environmental Impact Statement and Technical Review on June 25. The DNR held hearings in the cities of Waukesha, Milwaukee and Racine and saw well over 450 attendees, of which at least 100 provided verbal testimony to the DNR.

In addition, comments were submitted to the DNR outside the hearings.

Cheryl Nenn of Milwaukee Riverkeeper, said, “We were impressed but in no way surprised at the great turn out at all three public hearings. This is an important issue for our state and our region and a decision that will affect people’s lives and our Great Lakes, which are only 1 percent renewable by rain or snowmelt. The number of people at the hearings sends a very clear message to the DNR that the public is taking this diversion decision very seriously and they should too.”

The NAACP-Milwaukee Branch, Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin and environmental attorney Dennis Grzezinski filed comments with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The groups asked the state to deny Waukesha’s application for diversion of water from Lake Michigan.

The groups object to the application because diverting water to the suburbs will worsen segregation and racial disparities in the region, according to a news release.

“Thus far, the environmental impact study has utterly failed to address, much less resolve, the needs and concerns of communities of color,” said Karyn Rotker, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Wisconsin.

“Allowing a Lake Michigan water diversion to enable continued unrestrained sprawl and job migration will have the inevitable effect of perpetuating racial and economic segregation in the region, to the clear disadvantage of persons of color, especially African-Americans,” stated Fred Royal, president of the Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP.

The release from the coalition said it is one thing for a water diversion application to seek to serve an existing community that has no other alternative. It is quite another for a community to seek to divert water not only to meet its current needs, but to support and undergird industrial, commercial and residential expansion — especially when the benefits of that expansion exclude communities of color, mostly African-Americans, in the region.

“And the requested diversion is not needed to serve an existing “community” in need of water, as the Great Lakes Compact requires,” said Grzezinski.

As comments and studies submitted by others, such as the Compact Implementation Coalition, make clear, the city of Waukesha could meet its water needs without diverting Lake Michigan water. That it wants more water to support future growth and expansion outside the city limits does not justify the diversion, the coalition said.

“If a diversion is not used to increase development in the Waukesha suburbs, then there’s more incentive for those jobs and employers to locate or relocate in the city of Milwaukee,” added the Rev. Willie Brisco, MICAH president. “And we all know that is something our community needs.”

Also, on Aug. 28, environmental groups in Compact Implementation Coalition of environmental groups planned to submit comments “to the DNR expressing concerns that the city of Waukesha: 1) has not justified why it needs a daily maximum supply that is more than double its current use; 2) does not consider all reasonable alternatives to provide potable water for its residents; and 3) has not removed its request to divert Great Lakes water to communities who do not need it and who have not employed water conservation measures. The Compact requires these actions before an entity can request an exception from the ban on diversions.”

The CIC comments were written by more than a dozen legal and technical experts from nine local, state and regional environmental organizations.

“While the CIC’s comments will be some of the more extensive comments in opposition to Waukesha’s request for Great Lakes water, they will not be the only ones,” said Ezra Meyer of Clean Wisconsin. “People from all across the Great Lakes Basin and across Wisconsin care about this world-class resource. They fought hard to see the Great Lakes Compact passed to protect the Lakes for the long run and now they don’t want to see the compact or the lakes compromised. People from Ohio, Michigan and Illinois came to DNR’s hearings last week to tell our natural resources protection agency to say no, as did dozens of people from Racine, Milwaukee and Waukesha. Residents and ratepayers in Waukesha know this is a bad deal. We are confident that the written comments submitted to the DNR by today’s deadline will reflect an even broader base of grassroots support for the Great Lakes and against Waukesha’s fatally flawed proposal.”

Since the DNR released its draft Environmental Impact Statement and Technical Review on June 25, the CIC has been working to make sure the public is aware of the consequences of approving Waukesha’s water diversion application as it stands.

“What happens in Waukesha doesn’t stay in Waukesha. People from all across the Great Lakes region are concerned that Waukesha’s diversion application does not meet the requirements in the Great Lakes Compact,” said Marc Smith, policy director at the National Wildlife Federation. 

“The public has spoken: Waukesha’s application to divert Great Lakes water is not in the best interests of the Great Lakes region,” said Jodi Habush Sinykin of Midwest Environmental Advocates. “Wisconsin DNR must maintain the integrity of the Great Lakes Compact in both letter and spirit, by holding Waukesha’s application to its requirements and by making certain the science is sound, the data current, and the public’s questions answered before the application is approved.”

The DNR plans to release its final decision in December.

If approved by the Wisconsin DNR, all eight Great Lakes states governors will have the power to approve or deny the proposal and the premiers of two Canadian provinces will formally weigh in on the decision. 

Analysis: Walker gets his moment of glory, now the race is on

“You have to be crazy to want to be president,” Gov. Scott Walker told voters last November during his re-election campaign.

But eight months after he assured Wisconsin voters, “I’m going to do the best job I can over the next four years” as governor, he formally announced his presidential bid in Waukesha on July 13. Walker delivered a red-meat speech that positions him at the right margins of the crowded GOP presidential field, which now numbers 15 — with two more announcements expected in the coming days.

Pundits said it was an extremist speech that could help him win the Iowa caucuses but could come back to haunt him later in his campaign. But Walker hopes to win by driving the far right to the polls in massive numbers, a tactic that’s served him well in Wisconsin. And he hopes to capitallize on new Republican-backed laws that make it harder for traditional Democratic constituencies to vote.

Walker’s chief talking point was that he knows “how to fight and win” at imposing ultraconservative policies on a purple state. Walker won in 2014 with 52.3 percent of the votes cast, but only 27 percent of registered voters. His policies have landed Wisconsin at or near the bottom economically, devastated education budgets and environmental protections, taken away women’s rights — and are hugely divisive and unpopular. The last time his approval rating was measured (in April), it stood at 41 percent. And that was before a bruising budget battle cost him support even among the state’s Republican leaders.

Walker is nothing if not a political shape-shifter, who changes positions so often that he sometimes appears to forget where he stands on any given day. He’s also a master of factual distortion. Among the governors whose statements are most frequently checked by Politifact, Walker leads the pack with the number of falses.

Walker rose to national fame after boldly — and without prior warning — gutting public unions after taking office in 2011. He used the move to fuel middle-class resentments, pitting workers who enjoyed union protections and bargaining powers against those who did not. He went on to eliminate all wage-protection laws and exploit the indignation of older white males toward poor people who receive public assistance.

As he was caught on videotape telling billionaire supporter Diane Hendricks, Walker’s political strategy is based on “divide and conquer.” Hendricks, who paid no income taxes in 2012, gave Wisconsin Republicans $1 million in 2014.

About 5,000 conservatives cheered his passionate, commanding 30-minute speech on July 13 at Waukesha County Expo Center. The crowd went wild when he talked about unions and jeered when he mentioned climate change, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

In an effort to show that he was boning up on foreign policy knowledge, Walker made generalized remarks about the Islamic State group that reflected what others in the Republican field have been saying.

While national media afforded Walker his moment of glory, seeds of the trouble that lies ahead for him were also present at the Waukesha County Expo Center — specifically outside Gates 1 and 2. 

There, more than 200 sign-waving protesters gathered, organized by the Democratic Party, environmental groups, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. They hoped to draw attention to their view of Walker’s record. Some wore bags over their heads labeled “Ashamed of Walker.” They lingered for three hours.

Although the size of the protest was significantly smaller than the 100,000-plus anti-Walker crowds that surrounded the Capitol for days in 2011, the rhetoric hasn’t cooled over the past four years.

Media largely ignored the event, which was designed to deliver a message that was best summed up by Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair Martha Laning.

“Scott Walker’s record in Wisconsin is one of unprecedented corruption, division, extremism and a failure to foster economic growth and opportunity,” she said in a press statement. “And now, with wages in Wisconsin stagnant, job growth that’s dead last in the Midwest and trailing most of the nation, a flagship jobs agency that’s known more for scandal than economic development and a $2.2 billion budget deficit created by his failed policies, Scott Walker wants to take that record nationwide.”

Critics hope that Walker’s scandals, gaffes, shoddy management and other failures become more widely known as he faces increasing scrutiny — and the probing eyes of opposition researchers in both parties.

Despite being extremely well funded by special interests, especially the fossil fuel interests that he’s catered to during his gubernatorial tenure, Walker will have to fight for attention in a crowded field, duck difficult questions about the state’s economy and his foreign policy knowledge and overcome the numerous scandals that have plagued his career.

As Susan Page, USA Today’s Washington bureau chief, put it, “Walker’s relative obscurity is both a big asset and his chief vulnerability.”

The next few months are going to be riveting — and frustrating — for Wisconsin liberals and independents who have watched Walker turn the state from a bastion of reform and progressivism into the Midwest’s equivalent of Mississippi.