Foxconn & Water Use: Voices of Concern Dominate Public Hearing

Mar 8, 2018

While advocates of bringing Foxconn to Mount Pleasant stood behind delivering Lake Michigan water to the plant, people in the crowd at the public hearing Wednesday remained unconvinced.

The proposed diversion covers the southwest corner of the Village of Mount Pleasant.
Credit Wisconsin DNR

In order to get water to Foxconn, the Racine Water Utility hopes to pipe Lake Michigan water from the Great Lakes basin across Racine County, into the Mississippi River basin that eventually drains into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Great Lakes Compact enacted in 2008 has rules when it comes to diversions. The City of Waukesha requested and finally was granted permission to draw from Lake Michigan. That required Great Lakes Compact approval because Waukesha falls within a county that straddles the Great Lakes Basin.

Foxconn is located within a community that straddles the basin.

Although the diversion would cover only 2.3 square miles, Racine still needs to get permission from the Wisconsin DNR. Racine would deliver seven million gallons of water day; Foxconn says it wouldn’t need all, but most of it.

Shaili Pfeiffer with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

LISTEN: A Conversation With Great Lakes Compact Expert Peter Annin & The Questions Regarding Foxconn's Water Use

Before opening the program up for people’s comments, Shaili Pfeiffer with the DNR answered written questions attendees asked including: 'What kind of contaminants are expected to appear in Foxconn’s waste water?'

Her response: "We haven’t received any specific information. I know staff with the DNR are looking at what the standards are for other similar types of facilities to understand what type of broad contaminants this would relate to."

Racine Mayor Cory Mason wanted to assure everyone gathered that permission to divert Lake Michigan water would not exempt Foxconn from following environmental rules.

“Not on my watch are we going to let an application go through for a permit that wouldn’t meet or beat every local state or federal standard," he said. "I also can pledge to everyone here to be open and transparent throughout that permitting process.”

A silent protester
Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

Mason’s words and those of other Foxconn supporters didn’t appear to sway more than 40 people who took a turn at the microphone.

People traveled from Door County, Eau Claire and other areas of the state, including UW-Stevens Point student Jessica Anderson

“It’s easy to say Lake Michigan, the Great lakes are immense endless reservoirs. There’s no way we can run it dry. But as water crisis grows larger along the world cities, states and countries will be looking for water. How many straws will it take to sip the lake dry?” Anderson asked.

Tom Buhler’s company is already a Racine water utility customer. Each industry must pretreat their waste water before it is returned for the finishing cleansing process at the city’s plant.

Buhler said companies follow those protocols, “I believe the standards are in place are sufficient. The way I see it unless we’re all willing to give up our cell phones and our wide screened TVs, Foxconn is going to make LCDs. I think it’s best they do it here because we have a very good system and we’ll be very good at keeping our eye on the them.”

Mark Sheldon of Burlington shares his views.
Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

Mark Sheldon from Burlington was still not convinced Foxconn would be a good addition to the local environment.

“I’ve been on the phone with several DNR people…but no one could tell me what will be the contaminants, how they’re going to pretreat it, what they’re going to do with the waste that they glean from their pretreatment." Sheldon added, “Why are the leaders here out here tonight coming out and saying ‘We’ve got your backs?’”

Racine County Board Chairman Russell Clark said Foxconn will help reignite the region’s rich manufacturing history.

“I respect that there are concerns about Racine’s diversion application, but from my perspective as chairman of the Racine County Board chairman, this application is great news for the county. I’ve observed Foxconn very closely for the last several months, and one thing is clear – we have a great partner in Foxconn,” Clark said.

There was not a Foxconn representative at the hearing, at least no one spoke. However several hours before last night’s hearing, the company issued a press release reiterating its commitment to environmental sustainability.

Wednesday was the only public hearing associated with Racine’s water diversion application, but people can comment until March 21. The DNR says it will weigh comments equally, didn’t say when it expects to issue its decision.

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