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Foxconn gets approval for 7-million-gallon-per-day Lake Michigan water diversion

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RACINE — After more than a year of back-and-forth and hundreds of public comments, a Wisconsin judge has approved a Lake Michigan water diversion of up to 7 million gallons per day to Mount Pleasant, most of which is expected to be used by the Foxconn Technology Group for its planned manufacturing campus.

The court decision, which was published Friday, affirmed the decision made in April 2018 by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Environmental advocates challenged the DNR’s decision in May 2018, claiming that the water diversion for Foxconn’s planned factory shouldn’t be allowed because of Foxconn’s interests being primarily economically focused.

Brian K. Hayes, the Wisconsin administrative law judge who heard the case, disagreed.

In his decision, Hayes cited laws which stated that businesses can still benefit the public and thus are able to enjoy the same benefits via the Racine Water Utility as residential users.

Foxconn is estimated to use 5.8 million gallons per day once its planned manufacturing campus is up and running, with the remaining 1.2 million gallons to be available for “other industrial and commercial customers in the diversion area.”

“Our treatment plant is able to provide 7 million gallons a day additional without any issue,” Keith Haas, the general manager of the Racine Water Utility, said. “7 million gallons a day is the ultimate maximum … which could take 30 or 40 years to achieve.”

As part of the diversion, the amount of water provided to the diversion area (7 million gallons daily) will be returned to the basin through the Racine Water Utility.

The City of Racine, which oversees the Racine Water Utility, has more than enough capacity to meet such demand since industrial water use in the utility’s service area has fallen by 47% between 1995 and 2016, according to court documents.

The arguments

Under the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact, which Wisconsin joined in 2008, water is not allowed to be diverted outside of the Great Lakes Basin unless it is for “public water supply purposes.”

The Foxconn area is entirely outside of the basin’s borders, even though it is in an area that is served by the Racine Water Utility.

The petitioners — which included the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and the River Alliance of Wisconsin — claimed that, since Foxconn is “primarily an economic development project” and not a “residential customer,” it shouldn’t be allowed to have such a diversion.

The DNR disagreed, and courts have affirmed the DNR’s decision. Judge Hayes wrote that industrial and commercial development still falls under the definition of “public water supply purposes,” and thus the water diversion decision stood.

Hayes wrote that it would have been “an absurdity” if the petitioners’ appeal was granted.

Response

Now that the petition process is over, the Water Utility will be able to start testing water mains it has installed over the past 18 months and turn them into “active mains,” Haas said.

“I was pleased (with the judge’s decision),” Haas said. “It was nice to see that their decision at the DNR was vindicated.”

Mount Pleasant Village President David DeGroot praised the court’s decision in a statement.

“This diversion will support broader I-94 corridor development, creating even more Racine County jobs, patrons and residents,” DeGroot said. “It will enable us to provide clean, reliable, safe water to the residents, and support businesses that will locate to this area and the thousands of workers they will employ. This will benefit the entire region … while ensuring that our area’s greatest natural resource is protected.”

“This diversion will support broader I-94 corridor development, creating even more Racine County jobs, patrons and residents.” Dave DeGroot, Mount Pleasant village president

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