Milwaukee aldermen found themselves in a tight spot Wednesday after initially voting down a lease amendment allowing a Port Milwaukee tenant to connect to the liquid cargo terminal for shipping ethanol.
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U.S. Venture Inc., a current tenant of the port, sought to lease an additional 0.89 acres of property to construct a pipeline to the liquid cargo terminal for $13,350 per year. At the public works committee, company officials said the plan is to export ethanol to Canada and potentially to Europe. They also acknowledged the current lease would allow them to ship crude oil through the new pipeline with a Department of Natural Resources permit, but said they were open to discussing limiting crude in another lease amendment.
At the Common Council meeting, Aldermen Nik Kovac and Jim Bohl announced their intention to vote against the lease amendment with both expressing concern about the safety of transporting crude or ethanol and a general trend away from green sources of energy.
Bohl described his vote as “symbolic” and acknowledged the council did not have much choice but to approve the amendment as the existing lease gave U.S. Venture the ability to access the liquid cargo terminal. Bohl even suggested that if it came to it, he would be willing to change his vote to an abstention if the vote was that close.
Public Works chair Mark Borkowski pointed out there was significant discussion in committee and denying the amendment would open up the city to potential litigation for violating the original contract.
“The bottom line is this is a third agreement to a lease that we already have,” Borkowski said.
He complimented those who had registered their opposition to the plans, including Citizens Acting for Rail Safety, and pledged the committee would take up a larger discussion about the safety of transporting products like ethanol or oil through the port.
“We’ll have a discussion on the bigger picture,” he said.
Still, when the vote was called, eight aldermen: Chevy Johnson, Kovac, Bohl, Milele Coggs, Khalif Rainey, Michael Murphy, Tony Zielinski and Russell Stamper voted against the amendment with Chantia Lewis abstaining.
Bohl quickly asked for reconsideration of the issue, pointing to the potential legal issues the city faced by denying the amendment.
“The reality is, we need good, sound policy moving forward,” he said.
Kovac indicated he was willing to change his vote if it would change the outcome, but said he was also glad aldermen were taking the issue seriously.
“I am very encouraged that my colleagues are sending a strong message that we want to negotiate these things a little closer,” he said.
The council had some debate on whether to send the issue back to committee. Alderman Bob Bauman suggested that if his colleagues wanted to take symbolic votes the city should have to deal with the outcomes.
“Symbolic votes have consequences, especially when eight people get on the symbolic bandwagon,” Bauman said.
Bohl eventually withdrew his motion to send the item back to committee and instead moved for approval.
When the vote was held a second time, the motion passed with only Rainey and Murphy voting against it and Lewis still abstaining.