New Berlin leaders oppose facility planned for Waukesha to tap Lake Michigan water

Would be built on site in Minooka Park in New Berlin

Rendering of the proposed pumping station and reservoirs in New Berlin.
Rendering of the proposed pumping station and reservoirs in New Berlin.

Last updated on March 17th, 2020 at 01:37 pm

Residents and elected leaders of the city of New Berlin are objecting to the proposed construction of a large pumping station and reservoirs that are part of the city of Waukesha’s plans to receive Lake Michigan water.

Waukesha is moving forward with the construction of a system that would allow millions of gallons of water per day to serve its current service area. This system would include a 16,300-square-foot pumping station and two 8.6 million-gallon reservoirs at 3675 S. Racine Ave. — a project totaling nearly 85,600 square feet, according to documents filed with New Berlin by the Waukesha Water Utility.

The plans have been considered at various city meetings, with the latest scheduled for next week. On Monday evening, the city’s Plan Commission will hold a public hearing on the utility’s application for a conditional use permit related to the project.

In a letter sent to residents, New Berlin Mayor Dave Ament and Common Council President Ken Harenda say the project would be detrimental to the city for a number of reasons.

Ament and Harenda argue the project would harm the city’s quality of life, destroy a historically significant area and cause years of disruption to nearby residents and businesses, among other things.

“While we support Waukesha’s efforts to finalize its new water system, it is unfair to do so on the backs of New Berlin’s residents and businesses who have nothing to gain but have a lot to lose,” the letter states.

The facility is being proposed on an 8.5-acre site that is part of Minooka Park, and has been part of a designated historic district since 2004. Waukesha County owns the 579 acres of parkland, of which 380 acres are located in New Berlin, according to a city staff report. The Waukesha water utility intends to purchase the site, which is in New Berlin, from the county in order to build the facility.

Ament and Harenda argue this site is no such place for a pumping station and reservoirs. Further, they raise concerns in their letter about how local roads and private wells could be impacted, pointing out that 4.6 miles of water and sewer mains will also be installed in New Berlin as part of the project.

The letter also states a project of this magnitude that directly benefits Waukesha should therefore be built in Waukesha.

Residents have expressed similar concerns at public meetings and through written letters. For instance, a letter dated Sept. 8 from New Berlin resident Pat Walker similarly argued that residents’ quality of life will be impacted by the facility’s construction.

“We will have to put up with 2 1/2 years of construction, constant noise and hassle of commuting to work, school, etc.,” the letter states. “This all directly affects our quality of life. Not to mention, there is no guarantee that this will not affect our wells, which most certainly will cause problems if they have to de-water (underlying groundwater) during construction.”

Representatives of the water utility didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

However, in documents filed previously with New Berlin, the Waukesha water utility addressed some of these concerns.

The water utility said the site was chosen because it was the best out of at least six that were considered. Other area locations were not as good for various reasons, such as proximity to residential dwellings, existing contamination and challenges related to construction.

The site they selected near Swartz Road and Racine Avenue affects the fewest number of neighbors, with only 11 residences within 1,000 feet of the property line. And among other benefits, it also would not impact Minooka Park amenities and contains no contaminated soils, according to the water utility.

As for preserving the overall character of the area, the utility states that planned site landscaping and vegetation “would screen the majority of the views of the reservoirs from Swartz Road and Racine Avenue.”

Lastly, inspections from Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources staff have determined there will be no significant impacts to nearby private wells due to potential de-watering activities related to construction, according to the utility. This was determined because the wells are drawing groundwater from levels that are far below the depth that construction crews will be digging.

Beyond local approvals, the overall project also needs to secure permits with the DNR and receive the blessing of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.

A pair of applications are pending approval with the PSC. The application pertaining to the New Berlin facility would allow the city to construct a water transmission main, booster station, reservoirs and a water supply control building in various communities located in Waukesha and Milwaukee counties.

Matt Sweeney, a PSC spokesman, said that request is receiving testimonies from interested parties. There is a public hearing scheduled on the matter for Nov. 20 in Waukesha. The following day there will be what Sweeney called “technical hearings” in Madison. That hearing is quasi-judicial and involves an administrative law judge, he said.

Within a few months after those meetings, commission members will convene in a public hearing and vote on whether to approve the city’s request.

A preliminary determination from the PSC states that no significant or long-term environmental effects are expected as a result of the project. The determination further noted that all local impacts likely to occur, such as noise, diesel fumes and traffic congestion, would only be short term.

A separate application with the PSC involves a booster station and pipeline that will eventually be owned by the city of Milwaukee’s water utility, Milwaukee Water Works, Sweeney said.

Waukesha is required to switch over to its new water supply from Lake Michigan by Sept. 1, 2023, according to the New Berlin city staff report.

Waukesha’s plan to tap into Lake Michigan as its new water supply is no stranger to intense controversy. To even reach this point, the city needed the blessing of the states and Canadian provinces that are members of the Great Lakes Compact. This agreement allows communities within the Great Lakes Basin to use them as a water supply, but nearby communities may request permission to use the water.

According to the water utility’s website, Waukesha is one of a very small number of communities that aren’t in the basin but meet the criteria necessary for using the Great Lakes water.

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Alex Zank
Alex Zank covers commercial and residential real estate for BizTimes. Alex previously worked for Farm Equipment magazine and also covered statewide construction news at The Daily Reporter. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he studied journalism, political science and economics. Having grown up in rural western Wisconsin, Alex loves all things outdoors, including camping, hiking, four-wheeling and hunting.

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