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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Foxconn Clears Major Environmental Hurdles

Susan Bence
A portion of the crowd that overflowed water diversion public hearing.

Foxconn's massive manufacturing project slated to take shape in what is currently rural Racine County successfully jumped through two major environmental hoops this week.

Water Diversion

Wednesday, the City of Racine’s request to divert Lake Michigan water and deliver it to the Taiwanese-owned LCD plant got the green light.

The request has received a lot of attention and raised a great deal of concern among critics.

People packed into a DNR public hearing exactly seven weeks before the agency agreed to the diversion. The vast majority of people who testified at the meeting opposed the diversion – one of them was UW-Stevens Point student Jessica Anderson.

“It’s easy to say Lake Michigan, the Great Lakes are immense, endless reservoirs. There’s no way we can run it dry. But as water crises grow larger around the world, cities, states, and countries will be looking for water. How many straws will it take to sip the lake dry?," she asked.

Others at the hearing called the diversion precedent setting, they feared that if the DNR approved this request, others would follow.

READ: Foxconn & Water Use: Voices of Concern Dominate Public Hearing

Some critics worry about the quality of the water Foxconn will return to Lake Michigan.

Following the DNR's announcement Wednesday, advocacy groups - including Clean Wisconsin - say they are weighing their options. The groups maintain that the diversion is not in keeping with the Great Lakes Compact, the agreement struck by all of the states that border the basin to protect the massive freshwater system for future generations.

Air Permits

Earlier this week on Tuesday, the DNR also announced approval of air permits Foxconn needs to operate in Wisconsin.

While the water diversion hearing drew a huge crowd, that wasn’t the case for the air permitting process event. Very few people attended that hearing.

Credit Susan Bence
A small crowd gathered for the air permit public hearing.

And only two, both League of Women Voters of Wisconsin members, expressed concern.

Louise Petering worried about chemicals Foxconn’s manufacturing processes will emit: “We hope that all of those compounds fall within the Clean Air Act and Wisconsin regulations... if they do not, the public needs to be notified as to what those specific chemicals are.”

LISTEN: Small Crowd Gathers For Public Hearing On Air Permits Requested by Foxconn

Foxconn didn’t send any representatives to either hearing, but has repeatedly stated its committed to complying with environmental laws. And by approving the air and water permits, the DNR is signaling satisfaction with the company's plans.

As for what's next? Barring legal challenges, the company has cleared all major environmental hurdles. Foxconn expects to break ground to create its Mount Pleasant campus next month.

Foxconn is, however, required to submit a storm water management plan. According to the DNR’s website, the agency “reviews and acts” on that application “prior to the start of industrial operations.”

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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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