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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Environment Not Top Of Mind For Many Attending Foxconn Public Meeting

Susan Bence
Milwaukee Public Radio
Tom Ludwig (left) with Foth Infrastructure & Environment was on hand to explain Foxconn's water and wastewater plans.

The parking lot outside Veterans Terrace in downtown Burlington was packed as the informational session started at 5 pm sharp. This was the third public information meeting for area residents and business owners hosted by Racine County.

I chatted with people who turned out, and heard mostly these sorts of comments:

“I’m excited for the Village of Mount Pleasant and for the whole region. This will be a big shot in the arm for this whole 5-county region here. A lot of people needs jobs,” Paul Maccari said.

“I think it’s huge feather in our cap,” Sharon Smolensy said.

“I really wanted to thank someone from Foxconn for coming to god’s country,” Jeff Kraschnewski said .

All three live in Racine County.

But another resident had a different take on the huge factory Foxconn plans to build. Paula Puntenney lives on her family orchard, about 12 miles from the Foxconn site in the Village of Mount Pleasant.

“We kind of want to know what’s going to happen to the area – we live in a township that is primarily agricultural – what’s going to happen to that over time. Nobody knows, really,” she said.

Puntenney said neighbors share her questions about the plant’s potential environmental impact, but so far, she’s felt fairly reassured by project planners.

“I mean, everybody is concerned about the environment and they have to do a lot of studies to make people feel better and to make the project viable at all, and there’s some wetlands, but those have all been taken into consideration, so I don’t think it’s going to be too awful,” Putenney said.

The president of the village of Mount Pleasant, Dave DeGroot, predicts people like Puntenney will be won over as the factory takes shape.

He is confident Foxconn plans to be a good neighbor. “The chairman of Foxconn absolutely wants to make sure that they have zero impact on the environment – from the water quality standpoint, air quality, stormwater drainage. And I think as the project moves on anybody’s fears are going to be set aside and rested."

So far, Burlington high school junior Koleton Mangold isn’t convinced. He’s worried about the rollbacks in environmental regulations in the incentives package that Gov. Walker’s team designed.

The teen is digging into the Foxconn deal as an independent study project. Mangold said one aspect he’s watching is how the company will handle vast quantities of water required in the LCD screen manufacturing process.

“Which to me is a big concern because these are electronic that are going to be producing waste, a lot of waste. How are we going to manage that. So to me that kind of raises a big question mark in the back of my head,” Mangold said.

Project planners and local leaders were stationed around the room at the ready to chat with people who attended the informational session.

Tom Ludwig, with an engineering team, spent his time standing next to a poster that illustrated the path Lake Michigan water will take to the factory, and the pipes that’ll carry wastewater to Racine’s treatment facility.

He said Foxconn now is proposing cutting way back on the amount of water it uses. “We’ve been working with Foxconn’s engineers. We’re learning that they want to do a substantial amount of recycling. Recycling of water in their process. So that water demand has gone down nearly 50 percent from what they had originally had estimated."

Gov. Walker’s jobs creation agency still needs to approve the state’s contract with Foxconn. Racine County leaders hope the stars allign to allow the company to break ground next year.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.
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