STURTEVANT — More than 200 people, some from as far away as Green Bay, packed the SC Johnson iMET Center in Sturtevant for a public hearing Wednesday to listen to officials from the state Department of Natural Resources and voice their opinions regarding Lake Michigan water being used for the Foxconn Technology Group project.
The application from the City of Racine asks for 7 million gallons of water to be diverted to the Village of Mount Pleasant to be used for Foxconn. The public received some more information about the project at the hearing.
Because the City of Racine supplies Mount Pleasant with water, Racine is submitting the application on behalf of the village, and DNR officials stated that although the application is for 7 million gallons, Foxconn plans to use 5.8 million, with the excess water to be used for other companies that may come to the area.
Great Lakes Compact
The Great Lakes Compact, which includes all states and provinces that border the Great Lakes and was put into effect in 2008, will play a major role in the DNR’s decision to grant the application to Racine.
The area where Foxconn plans to build its facility is outside of the Great Lakes basin, which makes Mount Pleasant a “straddling community.” That, according to the DNR, made the application from Racine and a public hearing necessary.
Shaili Pfeiffer, an official with the DNR, said Racine submitted the application at the end of January and that the agency is in the process of evaluating the application.
“All existing state and federal air, water quality, solid and hazardous waste (standards) must be met. None of these standards were changed for Foxconn,” Pfeiffer said.
Pfeiffer added any acre of wetland filled must be replaced with two acres of additional wetlands.
According to the Great Lakes Compact, Pfeiffer said, any “consumptive use” greater than 5 million gallons requires approval from the other states and provinces in the compact. However, Foxconn does not meet that threshold.
“The proposal includes a consumptive use of 2.7 million gallons a day,” Pfeiffer said. “Most of the consumptive use is associated with the cooling towers for the Foxconn facility.”
Pfeiffer said of the 5.8 million gallons being used, 4.3 million are expected to be returned to Lake Michigan via the Racine wastewater treatment plant. Foxconn must submit a pretreatment application on how it will treat the water before sending it to Racine.
“Foxconn hasn’t submitted specific information about what their wastewater will contain,” Pfeiffer said.
Concerns about water discharge
A question was asked about why a water pipeline is in the process of being built despite the DNR not granting Racine’s application.
“I don’t have an answer to that question,” Pfeiffer said. “They are not allowed to serve water unless they have a diversion application or would be in violation of state statutes. They’re not allowed to serve water even if those facilities are being built.”
While some voiced their support for the project, dozens of people expressed their concerns with the project, particularly regarding the discharge of water from Foxconn and the potential dangerous contaminants that could flow back into Lake Michigan.
Racine Mayor Cory Mason, who worked on the Great Lakes Compact when he was in the state Legislature, said he’s heard the concerns of residents on that issue.
“There is nothing in the diversion application that would exempt Foxconn or any other user from discharge laws … they will have to meet all the standards under the law,” Mason said. “Not on my watch are we going to let an application get through for a permit that wouldn’t meet or beat any local, state or federal standard.”
Mount Pleasant Village President Dave DeGroot said the village is paying for the application, and the area that is planned to be used for the application is “ideal for development.”
“If approved, the diversion of Great Lakes water to this area will provide a safe drinking water supply to an approximate 2.3-square-mile area of Mount Pleasant, including for the anticipated thousands of Wisconsin workers who would be employed by the companies located within the area,” DeGroot said. “It’s important to note that this is a ‘straddling community’ diversion request. It’s not a request to draw more water from Lake Michigan. If approved, the diversion will have little, if any, impact on Lake Michigan water volume or quality.”