MOUNT PLEASANT — Dave Giordano is tired of hearing about how environmental advocates want to block business growth.
Not only does that label get in the way of his work as executive director of the nonprofit Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network, Giordano also believes it’s untrue.
“Years ago, we viewed this as an either-or situation … you can have economic growth or environmental protection,” said Giordano, who has led Root-Pike WIN for four years. That’s not the way it should be, he thinks. “We’re not an anti-development nonprofit. We look at smart development.”
Giordano points to the 120 properties in Mount Pleasant that are no longer in the Pike River’s “flood plain” (i.e. are no longer considered susceptible to flooding) thanks to a $20 million, 70-acre restoration project undertaken by the Village of Mount Pleasant in the mid-2000s.
Root Pike WIN’s next project is smaller in scale, but could be even more impactful on southeastern Wisconsin.
An approximately 1½-mile-long tributary of the Pike River, known as Lamparek Ditch, runs west from the river’s north branch into the Foxconn area. It is considered to be “a critical Lake Michigan tributary,” but has been labeled “highly degraded” by Root-Pike WIN.
Lamparek Ditch is high in phosphorus and other chemicals, exceeds the Department of Natural Resources’ recommended maximum for the presence of E. coli, is often contaminated with road salt, and has a low diversity of wildlife.
“It’s very polluted, no question about it,” said Mount Pleasant Village Trustee Sonny Havn.
To fix that, Root-Pike WIN has a multi-year plan, which wouldn’t directly charge taxpayers, that involves breaking up underground drain tile and repairing the creek’s banks that have been impacted by farming to the detriment of the river.
The proposal has received unanimous support from the Racine County Board and Mount Pleasant Village Board.
“We need to keep the environmental corridors clean. We have a lot of runoff from the farm fields and a lot of salt runoff,” Havn said.
Support from elected officials is a big deal, not only because Mount Pleasant owns much of the land around Lamparek, but also because “it signals to the public … how serious our boards are about environmental stewardship, according to County Supervisor Monte Osterman.
But now it needs to get funded.
“Nothing happens unless there’s funding,” Osterman said. “We feel like there is a way to fund this without affecting taxpayers.”
Estimating the cost of the project is not an exact science, but it will likely be between $3 and $4 million, Giordano said.
After getting approvals from Mount Pleasant and Racine County, Root-Pike WIN’s small staff — based on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside — has reached the grant-finding phase that is necessary to turn the design into an actualized wildlife area.
Besides improving water quality, Giordano and Osterman believe this restoration project will also help entice businesses to open up near Foxconn. It can be “a recruitment tool for a lot of people,” Osterman said. It also could function as new parkland and recreational areas for fishing, biking, hiking and birding thanks to two miles of planned multi-purpose trails and 100 acres of prairie and uplands.
“People want to be near clean water and open spaces,” Giordano said. “It’s going to be a great asset … You can see why this corridor makes a lot of sense.”
“To me, that’s the really important part of it,” Havn said, considering the planned trails will be easily accessible for Mount Pleasant and Sturtevant residents, as well as Foxconn employees. He pointed to the slowly expanding Pike River Pathway of an example of what could happen near Foxconn.
On top of that, creating an area that helps the economy, human wellness and the environment fulfills something that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calls the “Triple Benefit.” That’s something Girodano wants to achieve here.
Will Foxconn help?
One of the big questions that comes next is Foxconn.
The Taiwanese tech giant has promised to create two acres of wetland for every one acre it removes or changes. But some are skeptical of that guarantee ever being fulfilled, considering Foxconn has already been fined once for stormwater violations and has been criticized for its state-approved plan to divert 7 millions gallon of water per day from Lake Michigan.
When Supervisor Fabi Maldonado asked during a County Board meeting last month if Foxconn had put any money toward the project, the short answer was “No” — or at least “Not yet.”
Foxconn has publicly stated it supports this project, but there’s no guarantee they’ll provide funding.
“When the time is right, I think they’ll want to get involved,” Giordano said regarding Foxconn.
In a statement to The Journal Times, the Foxconn Technology Group said “Environmental sustainability is a priority for Foxconn, and that includes compliance with all relevant laws, rules, and regulations that apply to our operations … land parcels currently under control of the Village of Mount Pleasant play a strategic role for development within the Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park, but currently it’s too early to share future specifics.”
In Photos: Weed Out! Racine community work day at Colonial Park
Weed Out! Racine hosted a community work day on the morning of Saturday, April 28, 2018 in Colonial Park. Volunteers removed honeysuckle and buckthorn, cleared ash debris, planted small native trees, and pulled garlic mustard.
Photos by Adalberto Almeida for The Journal Times.
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