A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Milwaukee is Sinking

At least, it is according to the lawsuit that Wispark has filed with the state. That suit claims that the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewarage District (MMSD) is to blame, since they attribute the sinking-- and subsequent damage to their building-- to MMSD's deep tunnel and it's engineering. Or lack thereof.

To review, the deep tunnel was MMSD's solution to rampant sewage dumping back in the '90s. The problem is that Milwaukee's sewers are combined with its rain water run off system, so when there were hard rains, the rainwater would overwhelm MMSD's ability to treat the water and large quantities of partially treated or completely untreated sewage would wind up in Lake Michigan. One solution to that problem was to separate the sewage and runoff lines, but that would've been really expensive, and since the suburbs have separated lines, the cost would've wound up exclusively on the city.

So instead they dug the $2.5 billion deep tunnel, which is essentially a gianormous, 405 million gallon, holding tank. A holding tank under downtown Milwaukee which serves most of Milwaukee County and parts of Waukesha County, so they could spread that cost around to communities outside of the city proper. Anyway, the deep tunnel is meant to hold the excess rainwater and sewage during and after storms until the treatment plant can catch up with the overage. The theory is explained here, if you're curious. I say theory, because in practice, the deep tunnel has only helped reduce the problem, about 86%, not solve it-- something which separated sewers would have accomplished.

But even if you are willing to say that $2.5 billion is worth it for an 86% reduction, it now seems that when they dug/built the tunnel they did a pretty lousy job. It leaks, and consequently the ground around it is shifting and sinking. And so are many of the buildings above it.

The above mentioned lawsuit is only for about $11 million, but you can bet that if the plaintifs win there will be plenty of other property owners in downtown Milwaukee queuing up to sue for damages to their buildings. Not to mention the legal fees the tax payers are absorbing as MMSD tries to point the finger at everybody and anybody but themselves.

And so Milwaukee continues to sink, both figuratively and literally.

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