$125 million in Wisconn Valley water projects begins

Foxconn
Braun Road is closed to thru traffic near the Foxconn site in Mount Pleasant, as a steady stream of dump trucks travels on the road Thursday August 9, 2018. Only rubble remains of some homes that were located in the construction zone. (c) Mark Hertzberg for Racine County Eye

Love or hate the Foxconn project — the water and roads projects around the Wisconn Valley area in Mount Pleasant have already begun. With a price tag of a $125 million, the area around the Foxconn construction project will continue to change the area. How should people navigate around all of that construction?

I sat down with Keith Haas, the general manager of the Racine Water Utility, to help me understand where the work was being done and how long it will take to complete.

But first, let’s understand the relationship between the Racine Water Utility and the Village of Mount Pleasant.

The Village of Mount Pleasant is served by the Racine Water Utility as a retail water customer. The relationship is governed by the 2004 Retail Water Agreement. The agreement provides a framework for cost sharing between the City and Village to fund the expansion of water facilities within the Village.

An Intergovernmental Agreement revised earlier this year between the two entities ensures that the project costs associated with the expansion of the system meet the needs of Mount Pleasant tax increment financing district for the Foxconn development area will be funded by the Village.

How the water main projects are funded

The water main construction —  funded by the TID created by Mt. Pleasant for Foxconn — will cost $100 million in construction work and $25 million in engineering work, totaling $125 million. The project calls for Foxconn using up to 7 million gallons of water per day.

With the larger amounts of water needed so far west, existing water mains will need to be replaced with larger pipes. This need explains the influx in construction work on east-to-west roads, making Washington Ave the best route this summer.

Here is the latest on the Racine Water Utility projects:

  • Done: County Highway H and Frontage Rd.
  • Currently working: Braun Rd to Green Bay Rd and West Rd.
  • Halfway done: Wisconn Valley Way.
  • Just started: Spring St. and 16th St.
  • Beginning this summer: Hwy 11, Louis Sorenson Rd.
  • Work along Durand is a mostly state project with water main going in this summer.
  • DOT will begin working on these East exits of I-94 in the next 1-2 months:
    • KR for 18 months, Braun Rd for 12 months, and HWY 11
  • After other projects finish, Washington Ave will be resurfaced.

Read more about road construction.

City of Racine Water Diversion Update

Racine Water UtilityMidwest Environmental Advocates, Inc. (MEA) challenged the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ approved diversion of Lake Michigan water to Foxconn. The petition was filed before the State of WI Division of Hearing and Appeals on May 25, 2018. The diversion effects only a small part of water main projects, west of the basin divide line, pictured above.

MEA, a consortium of environmental lawyers, is representing the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, and River Alliance of Wisconsin.

The petition states the DNR’s approval violates the Great Lakes Compact requirement that any water diverted out of the Basin must be used solely for “Public Water Supply Purposes.” The City of Racine’s application identifies the diversion is solely to supply water to industrial and commercial customers in the Village of Mt. Pleasant. With no intent to give water to residential customers.

The case is now in the hands of an administrative law judge, who is reviewing many briefs from the petitioners and DNR. To put it simply, it is now up in the air for the next six months.

With no guaranteed approval, the City of Racine still needs to get large amounts of water to the Foxconn area.

“The Compact allows the City to build a water main in the diversion area but we can’t flush water outside the diversion line until the administrative law judge gives the green light. If he says no, they will just sit there,” says Keith Haas, general manager of the Racine Water Utility.

The Big ‘What If’

“If the diversion gets denied, Foxconn could have Mt. Pleasant turn on the existing well and apply for an additional well through the DNR. While using well water is not a long-term sustainable solution, it is an option,” said Haas.

Overall, the City of Racine needs to get large quantities of water uphill and west from Lake Michigan, creating much of the East-West road construction this summer. Drivers beware, going East/West there is better luck going North/South!

About the author

Knoff after sampling the Root River with UW-Parkside for a WI DNR Permit, September 20, 2018

A Racine native, Katie Knoff has a Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Studies from UW-Parkside. There she focused her studies on environmental problems in the past, present, and future, specifically water and geographic mapping. She chose environmental studies because from a young age she loved the outdoors as it always gave me a sense of peace.

If you have any questions or story suggestions, email her at kknoff@racinecountyeye.com.