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STURTEVANT — An environmentalist, municipal utility manager and nonprofit leader walk into an auditorium to talk about Foxconn. But what might sound like the beginning of a bad joke didn’t end with an unpleasant punchline, as local environmental and municipal leaders came to agreement Thursday to stay diligent regarding water issues related to the Foxconn development.

Remaining observant was the common theme as more than 100 community members gathered in the SC Johnson iMET Center auditorium to listen and ask questions during “Water Matters: Foxconn and Development.” The program, part of the Sierra Club’s Southeast Gateway Group October meeting, was hosted by the Greening Greater Racine community initiative.

“Don’t just assume that there are people out there that are going to be aware and who are going to pick the right fight ... we need support,” said Todd Brennan, senior policy manager with the Alliance for The Great Lakes. “We need people to be aware, to be observant and also to be there to support when somebody does raise a concern. Often times that comes from the citizens.”

Diversion

The upcoming Foxconn development has posed concerns for some regarding water usage and quality in the area. Representatives from the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network, the John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Alliance for the Great Lakes discussed the issue Thursday with Keith Haas, general manager for the Racine Water and Wastewater Utility, who has talked with Foxconn officials about wastewater and diverting water to the Foxconn development in southwest Mount Pleasant.

“There are more questions than answers right now,” said Haas. “Right now, if they don’t even know what they want to make … they don’t really know what to tell me.”

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources last April approved the City of Racine’s request to divert 7 million gallons of water per day outside the Great Lakes Basin. The Midwest Environmental Advocates organization quickly challenged the DNR’s decision, saying the decision goes against The Great Lakes Compact.

The Compact, a 2008 agreement intended to safeguard the Great Lakes, stated that a water diversion for a lakefront community like Mount Pleasant must largely serve residential customers — something the MEA and other environmental groups are taking issue with.

“It’s always so easy to point the finger at someone else, or to equate things to drops in the bucket,” said Brennan. “But what we need to be aware of is the cumulative impact. We need to measure what the future is going to be. And then track that back to decisions we need to be making right now.”

In a press release, the DNR said that Racine’s requested 7 million gallons per day withdrawal would only amount to a 0.07 percent increase in the total surface water withdrawals from Lake Michigan. The DNR said that the diversion will meet public water supply purposes, as it will serve largely residential customers.

The press release also stated that Foxconn will need to work with the City of Racine to meet pretreatment requirements for wastewater. Shortly after the MEA filed a legal action, Foxconn officials said they had plans to install a $30 million zero-liquid discharge system in order to reduce the facility’s water intake requirements.

When asked about concerns over water diversion, Haas mentioned that the City of Chicago takes nearly 1 billion gallons of water per day from Lake Michigan, as some reports show the city using around 700 million gallons per day.

“What’s 7 million gallons in a billion … drop in a bucket, right?” said Haas.

Watersheds and wetlands

A large portion of the Foxconn campus will be in an area where water drains to Lake Michigan via the Pike and Des Plaines rivers. Dave Giordano of the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network said one of his concerns is draining. 

“This kind of growth was expected,” said Giordano. “The speed and the scale was something I didn’t expect.

Part of the Foxconn construction site flooded last May after heavy rains — before the large portion of construction began on the site. However, Foxconn officials said they would deal with the issue, adding that they planned to construct additional sedimentation basins in accordance with the DNR.

Wetland conservation also is a concern for some in the area. The Journal Times reported in January that Foxconn does not have to avoid or minimize its impact on a pond and 42 wetlands that cover more than half of the area that will be under construction. Although this is true, Foxconn does plan to create more wetland acres than it will fill.

This is still concerning to Melissa Warner with the John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club, as she said that wetlands are very important to the ecosystem of Wisconsin.

“As citizens, we are the ones that have to pay attention,” she said.

You can learn more about Foxconn and its interactions with the DNR at dnr.wi.gov/Business/Foxconn.                                                        

Correction: The original story incorrectly stated which rivers any runoff from the Foxconn site would drain into. The error has been corrected. 

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