Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Board Approves Waukesha Water Deal After Revisions

Board grants Waukesha access to one-acre of county land for $300 million drinking water project.

By - Dec 16th, 2022 04:46 pm
Running Tap Water. Image by Steve Johnson (Public Domain).

Running Tap Water. Photo by Steve Johnson (Public Domain).

After a committee of Milwaukee County supervisors nearly disrupted a $300 million drinking water project for the City of Waukesha, the full county board provided a critical vote to move the project forward, but not before supervisors squeezed an extra $175,000 out of Waukesha.

Waukesha was seeking a 100-year easement from Milwaukee County for approximately one acre of land running along W. Ryan Rd. between S. 60th and S. 68th streets in Franklin. The easement would give Waukesha permission to put a section of underground pipeline on land owned by the county. This land is considered parkland, and therefore under the purview of the board. The pipe would be carrying treated water to its discharge point in the Root River, just south of the property for which Waukesha seeking the easement.

The easement is needed for a final piece of the Waukesha Great Lakes Water Supply Project, a massive infrastructure project involving a diversion of Lake Michigan water planned to be operational by September 2023. Waukesha has been out of compliance with federal drinking water standards for decades and has long sought a solution. The aquifer that supplies the community its water was depleted, increasing the concentration of radium in its drinking water. In 2003, they came under a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice requiring the city to meet water standards by 2023.

In 2016, the diversion was approved by the eight state governors and two Canadian premiers that make up the council for the Great Lakes Compact. In 2017 Waukesha signed a deal with the City of Milwaukee to pay for access to Lake Michigan water. In February, Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly said the project was “on time and on budget.” But when a committee of county supervisors recommended denying the easement to Waukesha, the project was in jeopardy of delays that could put it out of reach for meeting the deadline set by the federal consent decree.

Daniel Duchniak, general manager of the Waukesha Water Utility, told supervisors that a contractor has been hired and that every month the project is delayed increases the chances that Waukesha misses the deadline.

The board approved the easement Thursday, but added the requirement that the county board approves a renewal of the easement every 25 years up to 100 years. On top of that, the easement payment was increased from $100,000 to $275,000. Instead of a lump sum payment, it will be stretched out over the life of the easement beginning with $50,000, then an additional $75,000 at each renewal.

Waukesha never intended to run the project through county parkland, Duchniak said. But in the area of the easement, it ran into Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) infrastructure under the right of way. “We have run out of options, and it’s either the north side or the south side [of Ryan Road],” he said.

The original deal would have granted the easement to Waukesha for 100 years in exchange for $100,000. Duchniak told supervisors Waukesha would be paying Milwaukee a premium for this easement that was well above anything else they paid for land associated with the project. The 100-year timeframe for the deal was meant to match the expected lifespan of the infrastructure. The pipeline will be installed with a drilling technique that doesn’t disturb the surface for nearly the entire length of the pipe.

Milwaukee County Parks officials said the easement was not unusual, that there would be a limited impact to parkland and that the $100,00 fee would be put into a trust for the department’s Natural Areas Team to conduct water quality testing. The discharge point for this pipe will be on a parcel of land owned by Waukesha, but it is upstream from areas of the Root River Parkway controlled by the parks department.

Permanent utility easements are regularly approved by the board for companies like We Energies. But supervisors on the committee were uncomfortable with granting a 100-year easement, and at the full board meeting Thursday some expressed a general distrust for Waukesha’s water quality monitoring. “I was very concerned about a 100-year lease with $100,000 cost or $100,000 benefit all upfront on year one,” said Sup. Peter Burgelis. “The original agreement only had 10 years worth of water quality testing, which would have left Milwaukee County on the hook for years 11 to 99.” The pipe will be used to discharge Waukesha’s treated wastewater back into the Great Lakes basin.

Waukesha is to spend $100,000 a year monitoring and testing the Root River for at least the first 10 years, Duchniak said. After that, the level of water quality monitoring needed to continue will be determined by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

After reviewing the contract, the Milwaukee County Corporation Counsel Margaret Daun told supervisors that the easement contract does include levels for board oversight of the environmental impact of the project outside of the four renewals. “They have to detail the specs and provide effective drawings engineering plans for the construction methodology, erosion and sedimentation control plan and the preservation and restoration methods to be employed,” she said. “They’re providing us a lot of detail about the very things that could and would impact water quality over time.” All of these will require board approval prior to construction, she said.

Daun detailed a number of other stipulations present in the easement, which she said, “may provide this body additional comfort” and included language that held Waukesha “responsible for any repair cleanup, remaining remediation or detoxification, arising out of any hazmat introduced, doesn’t use hazmat it’s got the full words that are hazardous materials brought onto or introduced onto this easement land or surrounding areas by the city and or hazardous materials whose presence pre-exists even the city of Waukesha’s actions related to the easement.”

“I kept having more questions as Corporation Counsel was speaking, and then I think she answered all of them and I feel much better now than I did before,” said Sup. Ryan Clancy, who requested the additional review by the county’s attorney before the board voted.

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One thought on “MKE County: Board Approves Waukesha Water Deal After Revisions”

  1. Mingus says:

    I find it ironic that Milwaukee County is helping Waukesha County with a major public works issue that will mean that Waukesha County can keep one developing commercial and residentially. Meanwhile Waukesha County politicians continue to demonize and demean residents of Milwaukee County while cutting back on State aid and working to take dissolve Milwaukee Pubic Schools.

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