Preliminary Questions about the Digester Proposal

WGTB logo PNG 112x89 Post 2 in a series.

Considering what’s been presented about the digester proposal, what preliminary questions come to mind? Not in any particular order, but simply as topics?

I have answers to some of these, I think, but today I’m just listing general questions.

1. For the digester proposal, specifically, who benefits and at what cost? This is the key, compound question about any project. Because this digester proposal is a commercialization proposal (see question two, below) who benefits has more specific relevancy – some private interests stand to gain from a public investment for waste hauling.

2. What kind of digester proposal is this? City Manager Clapper contends, condescendingly, that it’s simply an upgrade of existing digester facilities (“When an issue as complex and technically detailed as the proposed upgrades to the wastewater treatment facility gets in the news, there are bound to be errors and points needing clarification….What is under consideration as part of the project is the installation of additional equipment within the digesters that would increase operational efficiency within the digesters.”)

It seems to me that the clear distinction between existing digester capacity and this proposal is not merely a two-million-dollar upgrade cost but a commercialization proposal: the importation of large quantities waste from other communities into Whitewater, supposedly for some benefit to the city.

There’s a profound difference of kind, for example, between a man who cleans his own dog’s waste and a man who hopes to make a living collecting and disposing of dog feces from other people’s yards.

I’m not sure – truly – why City Manager Clapper would think he needs a clarification of others’ work, when it’s more fitting to contend that his description of the project is misleading by omission.

3. How many broad ways can one look at the proposal? Previously, I’ve contended that there are four broad criteria from which to evaluate a proposal like this: (1) fiscally, (2) economically, (3) environmentally, and of (4) residents’ health.

The fiscal criterion involves the city’s budget and taxpayers’ obligations. The economic criterion considers the the city’s economy, including the perception of a city as a waste importer. The environmental standard involves how, if at all, the project alters the elements in the city’s air, water, or soil. A health criterion would measure how environmental changes, if any, might affect residents’ physical well-being.

There’s a fifth criterion, however, implicated in this new digester proposal: an examination of which private interests benefit from waste hauling to and from the city’s digester.

4. How much is publicly known about the proposal? I’d say a fair amount, but what’s been published by the city must be only a part of all public records available under the law (Wis. Stat. ยงยง 19.31-19.39). There’s more that’s missing.

5. How many consultant-vendors have been on the city’s payroll? Donohue and Associates is consulting now, but Trane was working on this project previously. Where is all the work from each? Why the handoff from one to the other?

6. How many meetings not publicly announced have city officials held about this project? How many of those meetings, if any, should have been publicly announced?

7. In some settings, City Manager Clapper and Wastewater Superintendent Reel tout possible commercial gains from the project, but in others they’re quiet or vague about those same aspects. What does that say about the nature of their commercial plans?

8. How much trucking of waste in and out of Whitewater will even a minimal commercial program require?

9. Is there a connection between truck traffic that would come from waste hauling and our local big-business lobby’s recent concern about truck routes through the city?

10. The new digester plan includes the commercial importation of waste in, and out, of the city to create an income stream for selected haulers. Who gets that business? How might they be connected to others now in office or in big business in the city?

11. Where would waste trucked from the city go under a commercial program? How would those in the city reliably know where it went?

12. What’s the current state of Whitewater’s drinking water, air, and soil?

13. What’s a good next step? I’d say it makes sense to publish a bibliography of every published, public record from the city on this new digester proposal. One could then assess each of those published, public records to form a list of specific questions, and to prepare a list of what seems missing from the published, public record.

(It’s fair to say that public records under law about this project are greater in number and scope than those few that the city has so far published, that is, placed online or distributed. It’s also true that the city has an obligation to produce unpublished, public records in response to a request even if a few officials may have circulated those records among themselves, or to third parties.)

So that seems the next step – publishing a bibliography of all the available, disclosed public records, from which one could generate direct & detailed questions.


Next Monday: A Working Bibliography.