County-commissioned FoxConn study due soon

By Gregory Harutunian for Chronicle Media

A map of the water diversion area caused by the FoxConn plant construction, which straddles the boundaries of Lake Michigan and the Des Plaines River headwaters. (Courtesy of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation)

While Gurnee, Vernon Hills, Mundelein, and Long Grove have joined the Lake County Board in the chorus of opposition to the Mount Pleasant, Wis.-based FoxConn project, with resolutions highlighting the environmental impact on the Des Plaines River watershed, the construction of the complex continues unabated. Expected soon are results from a study aimed at “empowering” the county with data on that impact for discussions with Wisconsin officials.

At issue is 26 acres of wetlands in the watershed, near the plant site, that will be filled and create a potential for even worse flooding downstream along the Des Plaines River to Lake County communities already hurt by excess water during heavy rain events. County officials are hopeful for a dialogue that will initiate mitigation efforts for the wetlands destruction, and not act as a prelude to litigation.

The Lake County Stormwater Management Commission engaged the Rosemont firm of Christopher B. Burke Engineering Services, Inc. to complete the study last month, and approved the action at a $74,000 cost.

“The study results can empower the county in talks regarding FoxConn, as there has been no dialogue between the county and Wisconsin,” said Mike Warner, the stormwater commission’s director. “Court is a last alternative. The study results will provide information … and we can do something like the town board of Somers (Wis.) did, as they have the same concerns. Where will the wetlands mitigation be?”

In late June, the town of Somers enacted an ordinance outlining post-construction runoff standards in the watershed which set a baseline for a maximum allowable release rate on properties in the Lake Michigan basin. It applied to sites with one acre or more of land-disturbing construction resulting “in an additional half-acre, or more, of impervious surface.” The 24-hour water runoff rates were reduced to amended pre-development rates.

The rate amounts are in accordance with the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission’s comprehensive plan for the watershed and basin, as well as Kenosha Planning and Zoning standards.

“With the 2013 and 2017 floods, as an example, every contribution of stormwater not mitigated will create more of a problem,” he said. “The law is two scoops back, for every one scoop taken out … for the replacement of wetlands at given site. We are losing the benefits of what the wetlands provide in storage. The factory site is set and being developed, but there are lots of other possibilities for mitigation to occur.”

Road construction at the plant site perimeters of I-94, county highways KR and H, and Braun Road have been given to widening and expansion in anticipation of the increased traffic numbers, from company personnel. The $10 billion plant has changed in scope, from producing large-scale LCD televisions to a smaller version, than what was originally touted. The Taiwan-based FoxConn Technology, Inc. has reiterated its commitment to creating 13,000 new jobs, and received more than $3 billion in tax incentives from the state.

“We will meet with the proper authorities in Wisconsin that authorize wetland initiatives,” said Warner. “The construction’s road authority is the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, meeting with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, SewerPac … what type of model will be presented? It will be a productive dialogue.”

While no timeline for completion of the study was given, Warner indicated the commission was tentatively looking toward a September date.