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Foxconn Project Creating Interest And Concern In Great Lakes Basin

Great Lakes Mayors Urging No Weakening Of Environmental Protections

Chuck Quirmbach/WPR

A group representing mayors from around the Great Lakes says it’s concerned about exemptions from environmental regulations being given by Wisconsin for the large Foxconn electronics factory planned for Racine County.

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative represents about 170 mayors. Initiative President John Dickert says the proposed Foxconn plant could mean thousands of jobs. But Dickert recently told a forum at the Society of Environmental Journalists annual conference that if environmental regulations are compromised, other companies will come to the Great Lakes region seeking exemptions and access to resources, like large amounts of water.

“You’ve set a precedent where you’re going to go back to the ’50s. And you’re going to degradate it, and then guess who’s going to have clean up all that crap again? The taxpayers, who just cleaned it up for the last 20 years,” Dickert said.

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Dickert, formerly mayor of Racine, said Great Lakes mayors want local and state officials to think about the next generation, not the next election. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has repeatedly said environmental standards would not be lowered to help Foxconn.

At that same journalists meeting, Jon Allan, director of Michigan’s Office of the Great Lakes said he’d look into Foxconn’s proposal. The plant may straddle the Great Lakes Basin, and environmental groups say they worry the manufacturing process could cause a net loss of water in Lake Michigan. That may be a problem under the Great Lakes Compact, a multi-state agreement that covers water diversion requests.

Last year, a panel overseeing the compact, approved Waukesha’s request to divert drinking water from Lake Michigan.

Allan says Foxconn’s plan merits study: “How it fits within the contours of the compact, what the mechanisms are for us to take a look at it, I think that is important. We will continue to engage in that compact conversation. How much will be at the compact level and how much of it is a Wisconsin decision, I don’t know,” Allan said.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says the Foxconn plant won’t trigger a multi-state review of Great Lakes water diversion. But an independent review of that isn’t possible at this point. The contract between Wisconsin and Foxconn is reportedly still being negotiated.