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Milwaukee-New Berlin Water Sale Could Be Near

Working out the details for an expanded service area

Jul. 23, 2008
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The state Legislature’s passage of the historic Great Lakes water compact in May allows New Berlin to go ahead with its request for more Lake Michigan water from the city of Milwaukee Water Works.

The request—technically an amendment to the agreement currently in place between New Berlin and Milwaukee—would allow New Berlin to bring in Lake Michigan water to an “expanded service area” or the “middle third” of the community. Milwaukee current ly supplies water to the eastern third of New Berlin, and wastewater is returned to Lake Michigan via the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District (MMSD) system.

According to the new compact, New Berlin is a “straddling community” that falls into two water basins, and therefore can request more Lake Michigan water to fill its needs.

New Berlin has unacceptably high levels of radium in its drinking water, and the city has argued that using Lake Michigan water would alleviate that problem, as well as lessen the strain on groundwater supplies in that part of the state.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett had said all along that he was willing to work with New Berlin, but that he wanted to wait until the compact was in place to see how the state would deal with straddling communities such as New Berlin.

“We needed to make sure that those protection measures of Lake Michigan and all of the Great Lakes were in consid eration here,” said Eileen Force, Barrett’s communications director.

A Boon for New Berlin’s Development

The access to clean, safe and plentiful water from Lake Michigan could be a boon for New Berlin’s development.

According to a memo from the Milwaukee Department of City Development (DCD), “extension of water service will result in the opportunity to develop approximately 175 acres of property in New Berlin, including 88 acres that could be developed for industrial use.”

That translates into roughly 5,668 potential jobs, about 1,152 of which would be in industrial areas of New Berlin, the memo noted.

Yet public transportation between Milwaukee and New Berlin is limited. The Milwaukee County Transit System operates limited routes that reach New Berlin, while Waukesha Metro Transit runs a route from Brookfield Square shopping center to the New Berlin Industrial Park. It also operates an express bus along I-43 from Mukwonago to downtown Milwaukee, with stops in Big Bend and New Berlin.

Milwaukee and New Berlin have wildly different demographics and economies. In 2000, 94.9% of New Berlin’s 38,000 residents were white. Milwaukee’s 597,000 residents in 2000 were 45.7% white, 36.7% African American, 11.9% Latino and 5.7% of another race or ethnicity.

New Berlin’s median household income in 2000 was $67,576, while Milwaukee’s was $32,216, below Wisconsin’s median of $43,791. The median assessed value of a residence in New Berlin is $220,600 in 2008, while Milwaukee’s is $129,400.

Not a Done Deal

But the water deal isn’t a done deal yet. It’s scheduled for a vote in the Public Works Committee on July 29, and then must be approved by the full Milwaukee Common Council. The New Berlin Common Council must also sign off on the deal. Milwaukee is asking for a few measures to be added to the original water sale agreement.

According to a draft agreement dated July 18, the Milwaukee Water Works would sell the water to New Berlin at wholesale rates, set by the state Public Service Commission. Milwaukee earned $530,422 in 2007 from its water sales to New Berlin, and it’s estimat ed that it would earn $966,440 in the first full year of selling water to this larger portion of the southwestern suburb.

In addition, New Berlin would pay Milwaukee a one-time $1.5 million “regional benefits payment” in 2009 that “reflects the value of Milwaukee water to New Berlin’s existing customers and a pre payment that reflects the value of Milwaukee water for potential future connections.”

The draft agreement also includes a non-compete clause—which would prevent another water works from supplying water to New Berlin—and requires all New Berlin residents who receive Lake Michigan water to be hooked up to the MMSD sanitary sewer line, which leads back to Lake Michigan.

New Berlin would also be fined for “excessive demand,” to the tune of $10,000 per hour and up, depending on how excessive the demand is.

The agreement also includes the recognition that New Berlin’s access to Lake Michigan water not only benefits its own development, but the development of the region. Milwaukee and New Berlin would not be able to compete against each other for new business, and they would also be required to hold annual meetings about the availability of skilled workers and job opportunities in the two communities.

Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy has pushed for the regional economic development requirements, and Force said Mayor Barrett supports them. The Great Lakes compact also requires New Berlin to put in place water conservation measures and to return the water to Lake Michigan.

What’s your take?

Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.



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