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MOUNT PLEASANT — Midwest Environmental Advocates on Tuesday announced its filing of a legal action in opposition to a multimillion-gallon daily water diversion from Lake Michigan for Foxconn Technology Group.

On Friday, the last day an objection could be filed, MEA filed its petition under the Great Lakes Compact to challenge the state Department of Natural Resources’ April 25 approval of the City of Racine’s request to divert 7 million gallons per day of water outside the Great Lakes Basin.

“This legal challenge is essential, as Wisconsin’s approval of the Lake Michigan water diversion requested by Racine tests the integrity of the Great Lakes Compact by ignoring a key requirement of the historic agreement entered into by the eight Great Lakes states and enacted into federal law,” stated MEA attorney Jodi Habush Sinykin. “This mistake must be corrected to defend the Great Lakes Compact and to protect our magnificent Great Lakes in the near and distant future.”

According to MEA, the Great Lakes Compact’s 2008 enactment was a “historic accomplishment at both the regional and national level and celebrated as a means to safeguard the world class freshwater resources of our magnificent Great Lakes.”

The organization said a centerpiece of the compact, then and now, is its ban on diversions, “reflecting the region’s determination to prohibit the transfer of Great Lakes water outside the basin unless a diversion request can meet narrowly defined exceptions outlined in the provisions and definitions of the compact.”

MEA’s filed petition contends the DNR disregarded and “unreasonably interpreted” a core compact requirement that all water transferred out of the Great Lakes Basin must be used for public water supply purposes, defined as “serving a group of largely residential customers.”

As stated in the petition, the majority of the 7 million gallons of water requested for transfer out of the basin, 5.8 million gallons, would be used to supply Lake Michigan water to a single private industrial customer, Foxconn.

The remaining 1.2 million gallons per day would be used to supply water to industrial and commercial facilities surrounding the Foxconn campus, called Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park.

MEA’s petition states that Racine’s diversion application identified no amount of transferred water that would be used to supply residential customers in the out-of-basin portion of Mount Pleasant subject to the diversion request.

The petitioners represented by MEA in this case are: Milwaukee Riverkeeper; League of Women Voters of Wisconsin; River Alliance of Wisconsin; and Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

Responses to petition

A spokesman for Foxconn pointed out that MEA’s challenge of the DNR decision is against the Racine Water Utility as the applicant and that it would be appropriate for comment to come from the utility.

Racine Water and Wastewater Utility General Manager Keith Haas said Tuesday his understanding was the MEA was not concerned about the DNR’s method in reaching a ruling on the water diversion request. “So, there was nothing flawed in the analytical process — they just didn’t like the outcome,” he said.

The Foxconn spokesman also said the company continues to believe the DNR decided appropriately and said it stands by its April 25 statement when the agency’s decision was announced.

That statement read, in part: “Environmental sustainability is a priority for Foxconn, and that includes compliance with all appropriate laws, rules and regulations relating to water use, water quality and wastewater treatment that apply to our operations. As a global leader in sustainable manufacturing practices, Foxconn firmly believes that we have a responsibility to help protect the environment.”

“We take a systematic approach towards integrating green and sustainable practices into our global operations,” Foxconn stated then. “This is the approach and philosophy that we will bring to our Wisconsin operations, and it includes reducing water consumption, optimizing water usage and actively promoting the reuse of wastewater and the use of reclaimed water in our manufacturing processes and for daily consumption in our operations.”

Claude Lois, project director for Mount Pleasant, issued the following response to the legal action:

“We are fully supportive of the application and confident that it meets the standards for a straddling community diversion,” Lois said. “We believe that a court will reach the same conclusion after review. The application will benefit the entire region, enabling jobs and economic development throughout the I-94 corridor, while ensuring that our area’s greatest natural resource is protected.”

Lois added that the diversion was something that the village has been considering for years as village officials have explored ways to support broader I-94 corridor development to create more Racine County jobs.

“The application will enable us to provide clean, reliable, safe water to the residents and businesses that will locate to this area, and the thousands of workers they will employ,” Lois said in a statement released Tuesday.

Other comments

Asked for a response to the environmental groups’ filing, DNR spokesman Jim Dick said: “We are reviewing the petition to determine next steps. Once that’s decided we’ll have a better handle on a timetable. But until then, we wouldn’t want to speculate.”

On Thursday Timothy Bruno, a representative of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, wrote to Adam Freihoefer, the DNR’s water use section chief, after Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection reviewed Racine’s response to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Regional Body about the DNR’s approval of the diversion request.

“Upon full review of your response,” Bruno wrote in part, “DEP believes WDNR’s approval of the Racine application complies with the language … of the Compact and Agreement regarding the Straddling Communities Exception.”

“This legal challenge is essential, as Wisconsin’s approval of the Lake Michigan water diversion requested by Racine tests the integrity of the Great Lakes Compact by ignoring a key requirement of the historic agreement entered into by the eight Great Lakes states and enacted into federal law.” Jodi Habush Sinykin, Midwest Environmental Advocates attorney
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Reporter

Michael "Mick" Burke covers business and the Village of Sturtevant. He is the proud father of two daughters and owner of a fantastic, although rug-chewing, German shepherd dog.

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