Thursday, December 8th, 2016

McIlheran finds extortion stirring in the water

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Patrick McIlheran, writing in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, looks at how Milwaukee’s difficult reputation came about, and what should happen when it comes time for Milwaukee and Waukesha to negotiate. Here’s the background from the column:

Waukesha’s problem is that its well water is tainted with radium, put there by God and declared unacceptable by the EPA. The city for years has been working at getting water from Lake Michigan. It has a plan, enforcing conservation on its citizens and fixing to punctiliously return every drop to the lake.

All unnecessary, argues Scrima. He contends Waukesha could make do by de-radiuming some well water, drilling shallow wells, taking some water from the Fox River and conserving more. This would be difficult but, as he sees it, necessary. Lake water is nice, he says, “but Milwaukee wants to attach strings.” In debate, he said Waukesha’s sovereignty was at risk.

I happen to suspect Scrima’s wrong about water. Lake Michigan makes the most sense. Waukesha Water Utility’s best estimate is that the lake is cheaper than cobbling together local sources, and Milwaukee’s water system is running at only one-third of capacity. Water for Waukesha, customers for Milwaukee: What could stymie such amity?

Milwaukee’s Common Council could by claiming a right to judge whether Waukesha has a pleasing amount of low-income housing. The council passed exactly . It also says Milwaukee will examine Waukesha’s tax rates, its poverty rate, whether it’s shown the right attitude about joining the Regional Transit Authority before selling a drop. This all suggests Scrima is justified in his suspicions. When the city prepared to sell water to New Berlin, its leaders openly discussed how much they should tack on to the price for the temerity of living outside Milwaukee’s boundaries. Two years ago, the Common Council held up a renewal of Menomonee Falls’ water deal in a fit of resentment. Two decades ago, Waukesha County communities that joined the regional sewerage system were shafted by a scheme that distributes costs on the basis of wealth rather than sewer use.

Milwaukee’s got baggage, and it’s getting in the way of a deal that could benefit both sides. This is critical: It’s not that supplying Waukesha would cost Milwaukee money. It wouldn’t harm the lake, wouldn’t strain the pipes. The sole objection by critics in Milwaukee is that the deal would benefit a suburb. They are so steeped in thinking of development as a zero-sum game that they believe will come at Milwaukee’s expense.

By the way, I met Patrick McIlheran at the recent AFP Summit where he was accepting the Defending the American Dream Media Award. I could tell he was genuinely pleased at getting his award and meeting many of the attendees. Just one of the nicer guys out there writing on politics.

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