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Six of Wisconsin’s Top Environmental Stories of 2017

Then in February, leaders discovered that as many as 10,000 more homes might be on the list ... Mining Bill In November, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill to end Wisconsin’s so-called mining moratorium. For the last two decades ...

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Listen Listening.. / 7:01 As 2017 comes to an end, WUWM’s environmental reporter Susan Bence reviews some of this year’s major environmental issues, from Waukesha's water deal to the Foxconn bill Waukesha Water Waukesha started 2017 on a high noteAfter years of study and applications, the Compact Council approved the city’s request to tap into Lake Michigan to replace its radium-tainted well waterThen, a consortium of US and Canadian mayors tried to stop the diversionWaukesha won that battleWaukesha had been slated to purchase and pipe water from Oak CreekBut in late October, leaders changed course and announced a deal with the City of MilwaukeeWhen the announcement was made, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett admitted that previous attempts at negotiating a deal had been bumpy“What you had was a policy disagreement, and it was an honest policy disagreement that fortunately the leaders of Waukesha and of Milwaukee never allowed to cloud our main focus,” he said“And our focus was how we can do right by our residents.” Much work remains before Waukesha residents begin to drink Lake Michigan waterRight now, planners are puzzling out exactly where the pipeline will fall Lead in Milwaukee's Drinking Water Credit DMITRY NAUMOV, FOTOLIA For months, Milwaukee leaders had been alerting people living in homes built prior to 1951 that they were at higher risk of lead exposure because of lead service linesThe city initially said about 70,000 households were affectedThen in February, leaders discovered that as many as 10,000 more homes might be on the listThe health department also rolled out their Lead-Safe Milwaukee campaign to educate residents about the risks posed by lead in both water and paintBefore the campaign launch, the department had also been distributing free water filters with the help of community partnersA group called the Freshwater for Life Action Coalition called on leaders to scale up efforts and “begin alerting the public in regards to this concern, begin directing the Milwaukee Water Works to contact water consumers of the city and alert them that they might have lead pipesIn that contact, provide them information that will help them determine if they have lead pipes or not.” The Hunger Task Force also took up the lead issue, but from a different angleWith representatives from the US Department of Agriculture standing by, executive director Sherrie Tussler said at a press conference that kids are better protected from absorbing lead if their diets include vitamin-rich food"We had state and local agencies that all came together and talked about the same thing in a cohesive wayAnd they agreed that well-fed means less lead, and we can advance this cause in a reasonable way in our community," she saidThe two groups kept up their calls for action throughout 2017In response, in late November, the Common Council passed a resolution reinforcing the importance of informing the public about filtering water to reduce the risk of exposure and testing young children for possible lead poisoningIn years to come, the city will need to tackle the long-range challenge of replacing tens of thousands of lead lateralsThe Milwaukee Department of Public Works says it will have replaced 600 lines by year’s end Protecting Greenspace Wauwatosa residents walk their dogs and jog the wooded parcelWildlife biologists have been surprised by the number of species found in 'Sanctuary Woods.' Credit Susan Bence Concerns about greenspace also wove in and out of 2017, including the vast acres managed by Milwaukee CountyIn Wauwatosa, heated debate remains over the future of a small parcel, affectionately called 'Sanctuary Woods.' Its 22 acres are surrounded by the ever-expanding research and medical complex that includes Children’s and Froedtert HospitalsAt one of several public meetings this year, Wauwatosa resident Deb Fowler made the case to preserve the woods“Because we have lost so much of space of the County Grounds, what remains is an oak savannah, some incredible spring ephemerals, a pond with frogs and many species in there and it’s the last remaining spot.” Wauwatosa Mayor Kathy Ehley insisted public concern was unfounded“It is my belief that at the end of this planning process, we will have a plan that balances environment…a plan to protect beloved green space, as well as provide opportunities and guide decisions that foster economic development, job creation and added value.” Mining Bill In November, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill to end Wisconsin’s so-called mining moratoriumFor the last two decades companies hoping to mine for minerals such as gold or copper were required to prove they already had run a non-polluting minePeople pushing for a change argued the bill would allow companies to open job-creating mines more easilySpooner resident Casey Aronson made his case at a hearing in SeptemberHe’s a heavy equipment operator, and said he would be eager to take one of those jobs“Not only give us a place to work but give our children an opportunity to work and live in northern Wisconsin rather than seeing them watching them leave to seek employment elsewhere,” Aronson said“I love the great outdoorsI too want to preserve and protect our land, but I believe that we can safely and responsibly mine our land without harming our environment.” Foxconn Bill Surveyor assesses stormwater capacity of culvert on stream running through land Foxconn plans to build its factory Credit Susan Bence Perhaps no other piece of legislation in 2017 garnered more attention than the sweeping document that folded in $3 billion in tax incentives for FoxconnThe bill also offered exemptions from environmental permits and DNR oversight, as the Taiwanese manufacturer builds a huge LCD screen plant in Racine CountyDuring the debate, Jennifer Giegerich with the League of Conservation Voters cited a bundle of concern, including the public’s inability to weigh in on the gigantic campus’ impacts to air and waterUnder the bill, Foxconn can offset the impact of disturbing wetlands, by “building” wetland somewhere elseGiegerich was aghast“A wetland is like a fire extinguisher, it really only gives you the benefits if it’s nearbyAnd so the fact that there is no requirements about where they’re built, that gives no flooding protection, that gives no clean water protections for the local community,” she saidConservation groups weren’t alone in raising concernsRepublican RepBob Kulp of Stratford said his constituents have questionsHe turned to DNR deputy secretary Kurt Thiede for answers“There’s nothing in this bill that roles back any of the air construction permits that are going to be necessary through constructionThe air monitoring requirements that are going to be in place and the standards that are associated with those permits,” Thiede said“The stormwater requirements, the waste requirement and how that’s managed.” READ: Mount Pleasant Invested Millions In River Restoration; Will Foxconn Be A Good Neighbor? Wetland Bill State SenRoger Roth (R) authored a proposal to free up so-called isolated wetlands for developmentAbout 80 percent of the state’s wetlands are connected to surface water, such as rivers and lakes, and are regulated by the U.SArmy Corps of EngineersRoth said his bill simply makes better use of the remaining 20 percent, which adds up to one million acresDevelopers would still be required to improve or create wetland somewhere else“This bill doesn’t destroy wetland, this doesn’t reduce the amount of wetland here in WisconsinThis is just streamlining that permitting process,” Roth said“And at the end of the day, there will be no net loss of wetlands here in Wisconsin.” Last week, a long queue of people testified for and against the billOne of the opponents was George Meyer, a former DNR secretary and current head of the Wisconsin Wildlife FederationHe said some of the wetland areas that would be folded into the bill are important ecologically and environmentallyMeyer urged state legislators to form a work group – composed of both developers and conservation groups – to look at wetlands and proposed projects individually, rather than uniformly removing protection“There is a willingness by these groups to solve wetland regulatory issues, but sportsmen and women are united that any such proposal has to be carefully constructed so as not to open up the floodgates for loss of the vast majority of nonfederal wetlands that provide valuable fishing, wildlife habitat water quality protection and ever more critical flood damage relief,” he saidHave an environmental question you'd like WUWM's Susan Bence to investigate? Submit below_ Tags: WUWM environmentWUWM NewsTweetShareGoogle+Email Related Content Milwaukee Replaces Oak Creek in Waukesha Water Deal By Susan Bence • Oct 30, 2017 Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio Oak Creek had been on tap sell Waukesha Lake Michigan water to replace its contaminated well waterBut Monday Waukesha announced that instead, it will purchase the supply from Milwaukee Before he toasted over glasses of water with Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly on Monday, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett acknowledged the road to their agreement had been a bumpy one How Far Has Milwaukee Come In Resolving Its Lead Water Crisis? By Susan Bence • Sep 12, 2017 Dmitry Naumov, fotolia One year ago, Mayor Tom Barrett surprised Milwaukeeans when he advised residents living in houses built before 1951 to install water filtersThat's the era when the pipes that carry water from mains to households were made of lead Wauwatosa's Sanctuary Woods Debate Bubbles Up in Milwaukee County By Susan Bence • May 17, 2017 County Grounds Coalition Debate over a small wooded parcel in Wauwatosa, commonly called Sanctuary Woods, has been brewing for monthsThe 22-acre parcel lies within a much larger area that city leaders envision as the Life Sciences DistrictOn Tuesday, Wauwatosa's controversial plan came up at the Milwaukee County Park, Energy and Environment committee meetingThe room spilled over with people and the committee chair quickly arranged an extra room so folks wouldn’t have to sit on the floor State Assembly Passes Controversial Mining Bill By Susan Bence • Nov 2, 2017 Susan Bence Update, November 3: Although Democrats rallied against the bill designed to lift the nearly-20 year restrictions on sulfide mining, the Republican-dominated State Assembly prevailed with a 53-38 voteBill sponsor RepRob Hutton of Brookfield folded in amendments that include halting mining if it is legally challenged; another to help ensure mining companies pay taxes Mount Pleasant Invested Millions In River Restoration; Will Foxconn Be A Good Neighbor? By Susan Bence • Oct 5, 2017 Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio The Taiwanese company announced Wednesday it would build its huge LCD screen plant in the Village of Mount Pleasant, just east of Interstate 94Critics call the state’s $3 billion incentives package exorbitant, others cite environmental concerns Foxconn will use large amounts of water in the LCD screen manufacturing process, and the state incentives package exempts the company from some environmental regulationsProponents dismiss the worries State Legislature Considers Bill That Removes Protections for Some Wetlands By Susan Bence • Dec 19, 2017 Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio A bill floating through the Legislature would eliminate protection of some wetlands in WisconsinAssembly Majority Leader Jim Steinecke, who authored the bill, says the measure would free developers from unnecessary regulations, when parcels have no environmental value Others are concerned Wisconsin stands to lose natural pockets of marshy earth that soak up storm water as well as provide habitat Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science

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