Saturday, December 29, 2007

Water solution in Brown County. Really?

Recently, the Business Journal ran an article highlighting a just-completed 65-mile, $80 million pipeline that delivers fresh Lake Michigan water to the suburbs of Brown County from Manitowoc, WI. In the article, the Business Journal states that "what happened in Brown County could serve as a prototype for southeast Wisconsin," implying that the Milwaukee region could learn something from Brown County in addressing the water demand in its suburban communities.

Based on previous reporting in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (JS), this implication is puzzling. The JS article reports that instead of utilizing the existing City of Green Bay pipeline, an entirely separate pipeline had to be constructed because negotiations broke down between the city and its suburbs.

How can the construction of redundant infrastructure - two parallel pipelines stretching from Lake Michigan to Brown County) - be good public policy?

In addition to the apparent fiscal inefficiencies of the Manitowoc/Brown County pipeline, this project may have also cost the Green Bay region a chance at building regional trust, goodwill and cooperation. So state the major players in the pipeline negotiations...

From the suburbs: "Think of the old days, when people fought over water out West. Those days are still here. It just boggles the mind that you can't get people to cooperate on something as basic as water."

From the city: "This was a failure of business, a failure of government, a failure of the media. A failure by everybody. We're taking $20 million to $100 million out of the Brown County economy . . . for no other reason than we can't get along."

From the suburbs: "We all went into this with the idea that we had a regional problem and we were going to come out of this with a regional solution. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way."

From the city: "It (the pipeline) puts a dollar figure on urban-suburban hate."

These statements from those close to the negotiations question whether this $80 expenditure should be hailed as a prototype for regional cooperation.

It looks as though the Milwaukee Common Council may have been following this debate closely, as they have decided, instead, to negotiate with their thirsty suburban neighbors. Here's hoping these negotiations don't also end up placing a dollar figure on urban-suburban hate. I'll drink to that.

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