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GLIN==> Lawsuit Over Milwaukee Sewage Moves to Higher Court





Friends of Milwaukee’s Rivers




Citizens’ Groups Press in Federal Appeals Court to Stop Lake Michigan Sewage Overflows


For Immediate Release                                             Contact:

                                                                                    Cameron Davis-LMF (312) 375-2004 (cell)

                                                                                    Lynn Broaddus-FMR (414) 559-5495 (cell)


Chicago — Citing 1 billion gallons of raw industrial and domestic waste discharges to Lake Michigan since 1995 and accountability lapses by state and federal agencies to safeguard the public against future discharges by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), two citizens’ groups today took their case to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago.

“When federal and state agencies don’t take serious steps to end sewage discharges to the lake that all of us in the region enjoy, citizens have the right and duty to step in,” said Cameron Davis, executive director of the Lake Michigan Federation. “We are pressing our case because neither the state of Wisconsin nor the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regional office in Chicago are holding Milwaukee accountable for more than 100 federal Clean Water Act violations over the past several years.”

            The groups—the Chicago-based Lake Michigan Federation and Friends of Milwaukee’s Rivers—are appealing a Milwaukee federal district court decision issued on September 29. The decision dismissed the groups’ suit on procedural grounds without addressing the groups’ claims that MMSD has illegally discharged 1 billion gallons of raw industrial and domestic waste into regional waterways. The decision also failed to address the groups’ claims that MMSD is now free to violate the Clean Water Act by discharging sewage into Lake Michigan without penalties or other consequences.

“Our board took the time to fully discuss whether or not to appeal and made the unanimous decision that we have an obligation to the citizens of Milwaukee to get the opinion of the higher court,” said Lynn Broaddus, executive director of Friends of Milwaukee’s Rivers.  “We don’t enjoy litigation, but we continue to feel that MMSD has not been held accountable for its sanitary sewer overflows, especially those that continue to occur under dry weather conditions.”

In March 2002, the two groups filed their lawsuit in Milwaukee federal court to require a phase out of MMSD’s raw industrial and domestic waste discharges to Lake Michigan and local rivers. In May 2002, MMSD requested dismissal of the lawsuit, after working with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) to have a “friendly” suit filed against MMSD in state court. The two organizations have long contended that the state action was a “sweetheart deal” intended to shield MMSD from having to eliminate sewage overflows:


·        The groups found more than 100 violations of the federal Clean Water Act. The WDNR cited only 8.


·        The WDNR action does not impose penalties or other consequences when MMSD fails to undertake sewage overflow controls. The groups’ suit would hold MMSD accountable for violations with penalties. Such penalties could fund local water protection measures for greater protection against future overflows.


·        The state suit only recognized MMSD violations that occurred during storms. The groups sued in federal court over “dry weather” Clean Water Act violations as well as those that resulted from storms.


·        The groups’ lawsuit would prohibit MMSD from violating the Clean Water Act. The state action does not require a similar guarantee.


A July 2002 report by the bi-partisan Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau similarly found many more MMSD violations of the Clean Water Act than WDNR has acknowledged and that WDNR had a pattern of lax enforcement. The federal district decision dismissed the groups’ federal lawsuit, reasoning that the WDNR lawsuit was adequate.

The outcome of this suit could potentially impact the ability of citizens in other regions to use the Clean Water Act as intended. “The dumping of raw sewage into Milwaukee’s rivers and Lake Michigan was precisely the kind of activity that the Clean Water Act was supposed to prevent,” said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., President of the national Waterkeeper Alliance in New York, in supporting the appeal. “Friends of Milwaukee’s Rivers and the Lake Michigan Federation should be commended for insisting on accountability from their public agencies.”

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Formed in 1970, the Lake Michigan Federation is the oldest citizens’ Great Lakes organization in North America. Its mission is to restore fish and wildlife habitat, conserve land and water, and eliminate pollution in the watershed of the largest lake within U.S. borders. More on the Federation and this lawsuit is available at www.lakemichigan.org.


Friends of Milwaukee’s Rivers’ mission is to protect water quality and wildlife habitat in the river corridors and to advocate for sound land use in our watersheds. FMR is a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, a national coalition dedicated to protecting and restoring our nation’s waterways, and is the licensed Riverkeeper® for Milwaukee. Visit www.mkeriverkeeper.org.


The Lake Michigan Federation and Friends of Milwaukee’s Rivers are represented by Karen M. Schapiro at the Milwaukee firm of Frazer & Schapiro, (414) 347-9500, and by James A. Vroman and Steven M. Siros of Jenner & Block in Chicago, online at www.jenner.com/practice/practice_detail.asp?ID=31.