A Technical Project

WGTB logo PNG 112x89 Post 28 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.

In the clip above, Whitewater’s city manager mentions briefly the process through which Whitewater selected the engineering firm now advising on both wastewater upgrades and a waste-importation program.

The clip illustrates both the strength and weakness of local government’s position: reliance on an established firm, but a narrow, technocratic reliance.  

There’s power is an assessment of what can be built (that is, literally, what can be constructed).  Alone, it’s a power without context or sound foundation: it’s not remotely enough to say that waste-importation, for example, can be engineered.

It probably can – distant communities and haulers will want to truck their unwanted, high-strength industrial waste to Whitewater.  

In the same way, one could build a pipeline or a dam but those projects are more than technical projects; they’re plans with fiscal, economic, environmental, health, and business-culture implications.   

Ticking off a list of for-profit firms that will receive compensation when a project goes forward isn’t vetting the project; it’s vetting those who want to sell a project.  (Just as Councilmember Ken Kidd’s consistent boosterism doesn’t rest on anything like a truly independent study.)

I’d guess that City Manager Clapper, educated and intelligent, has a narrow focus, and is relying mostly or exclusively on what may be technically possible.  (This reliance is even more evident with Wastewater Superintendent Reel, albeit without evidence of Clapper’s other attributes.)  

Hayek described a similar, singular focus on design planning as a fatal conceit; he even wrote a book about it.  

I’d guess that, in his remarks, City Manager Clapper means to reassure; considering his words carefully, however, is to see how narrowly-considered this project truly is.  

The full video from the City of Whitewater is available at