The Once and Present Vendor

WGTB logo PNG 112x89 Post 18 in a series. When Green Turns Brown is an examination of a small town’s digester-energy project, in which Whitewater, Wisconsin would import other cities’ waste, claiming that the result would be both profitable and green.


One might, as in the picture above, see only the rich colors of a forest; looking more closely, though, one sees that vegetation shares the canvas with something else.

From the beginning, in a closed meeting, Whitewater’s city officials met with three design and engineering firms, and one large-scale waste hauler, about waste importation into the city.

Before the first public presentation, long before ‘feasibility studies’ and ‘technical memoranda,’ Whitewater’s city manager and wastewater superintendent held discussions with a waste hauler to import other cities’ unwanted filth into Whitewater.

At those discussions were the Trane, Black & Veatch, and Donohue firms. In these last weeks, I’ve written about Trane’s proposals to Whitewater, for a digester-energy project and for an energy-savings contract. Trane’s role is a story about Trane, but also about the judgment of those who relied on Trane.

Along the way toward this digester project, Trane slipped from view, so to speak, and the Donohue engineering firm became the outside-vendor face of the project. They were present at earlier closed-door meetings, and emerged later as the advocates of both a wastewater plant upgrade and a digester-energy project.

About Donohue’s work toward a digester-energy project, it’s worth offering two principal questions:

(1) what have they considered, and (2) what have they left unconsidered?

In the language of economics, this would be something like what is seen and what is not seen.

What they have considered and what they haven’t is both a matter of their own work and the limitations city officials have placed on it, by defining the scope of the project.

There is no omniscience in Donohue’s analysis or assessments; theirs is human work, and it is susceptible of limitation as all human work is.

In these weeks ahead, I’ll consider Donohue’s published work, written or recorded, in support of a digester-energy project. I’ll do my best to find both what is seen, and that which has been otherwise left unseen.