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Waukesha, New Berlin reach deal over $286M water-diversion project

The cities of New Berlin and Waukesha approved a deal on Tuesday to resolve a standoff over a pumping station that threatened to delay Waukesha’s plan to build a pipeline to supply it with Lake Michigan water.

Waukesha had initially planned to build a pumping station and two reservoir tanks in a New Berlin public park. The connection was needed for Waukesha’s $286 million plan to supply its residents with lake water — a project local officials will start soliciting bids for on Tuesday. The city’s water now comes in large part from wells that are contaminated with radium.

Last fall, as Waukesha officials were seeking approval for the project from state regulators, New Berlin residents complained about a part of the plans that called for the construction of a 16,000-square-foot pumping station and two 9 million-gallon tanks in the city’s Minooka Park. In testimony filed with the state Public Service Commission, local officials and homeowners argued the system would ruin the appearance of the historic park. New Berlin Mayor Dave Ament went so far as to call the pumping station “monstrous.” New Berlin officials also denied a permit needed for the project, prompting Waukesha to file a lawsuit. Ament hadn’t returned a request for comment by press time Wednesday.

Dan Duchniak, general manager of the Waukesha Water Utility, said the objections threatened to upend the project and could have caused the city to miss a U.S. Department of Justice deadline requiring that the pipeline be half-built by May 2022. He said he’d been working with New Berlin for three years, well before residents and local officials raised their concerns.

“Obviously we didn’t anticipate that public would object to that location of the booster pump site,” Duchniak said. “Obviously that led to New Berlin denying the conditional use permit.”

The deal to end the dispute, approved by the city councils of both New Berlin and Waukesha, would instead have the proposed pumping station and storage tanks built in Waukesha. Waukesha in turn would get $2 million from New Berlin for moving expenses. New Berlin, for its part, would agree to advance permits needed for the project and would get a way to connect both to the pipeline and to a nearby fiber-optic cable, Duchniak said.

Despite the deal, the timing of the project remains delicate.

The state Public Service Commission has already approved Waukesha’s construction proposal. But because plans now call for moving the pumping station from New Berlin to Waukesha, regulators must weigh in again. Even without additional opposition, it could take months to cross that hurdle.

And as a kind of insurance, Waukesha has made no plans to drop its lawsuit against New Berlin just yet. In case the PSC doesn’t approve the revised plan, Waukesha could continue to push to have a pumping station in New Berlin, Duchniak said.

Meanwhile, Waukesha is moving ahead with the construction of other parts of the pipeline. Following the first bid solicitation on Tuesday, there will be two more bidding opportunities next month.

Thirty-three contractors had themselves registered last fall in accordance with a requirement for the project. The city of Milwaukee is also expected to put parts of the project that are under its purview up for bid in July or August.

Construction work could ultimately begin this fall. That should give the water utility enough time to meet its goal of completing the project by June 2023, Duchniak said.

Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly said the city’s deal with New Berlin should also allow the pipeline to be completed at about the same cost as was initially estimated.

“It puts us relatively in the same cost position that we’d had before,” Reilly said. “It also gives us more certainty to timing, which is real important when we’re under the court order to have the system completed by June 2023.”

About Nate Beck, [email protected]

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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