Foxconn Factory Location Announced

Posted on October 19, 2017 by

It’s official: Chinese manufacturer Foxconn will set up shop in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin—just north of the Wisconsin-Illinois border and a mere 7 miles from Lake Michigan. Since the Wisconsin legislature finalized and passed the $3 billion incentives package for the Chinese manufacturer, opponents of the deal have anticipated this announcement, as it will have tremendous implications for how the facility is regulated.

Last month we told you about one mid-Michigan community’s struggle against Nestle corporation and its intersections with a little-known law called the Great Lakes Compact. Approved by both houses of Congress and signed by President Bush on October 3, 2008, the legally-binding interstate compact created a standardized set of tools and protocols for the management of Great Lakes water. Most notably, the agreement effectively banned all water withdrawals by municipalities located outside the Great Lakes basin, and it restricted withdrawals that have a measurable negative impact on a surrounding watershed.

How the Great Lakes Compact applies to Foxconn depends on where its facilities are located, and the company’s recent announcement won’t set critics at ease.

Since Foxconn’s factory will be located entirely within the Lake Michigan drainage basin, the corporation can access Great Lakes water with only state approval. Wisconsin’s generous approach with the company has raised questions about how well state agencies will enforce environmental protections. The Wisconsin legislature passed this incentives package before Foxconn even detailed a plan for treating wastewater, and the final deal included exemptions from state regulations on wetland conservation, among others.

One electronics manufacturer estimated that the factory may utilize almost 15 million gallons of water per day. More conservative estimates place that amount under 10 million gallons. To put that into perspective, the community of Waukesha (population 70,718)—which recently gained approval to divert water from Lake Michigan—is expected to utilize 8.2 million gallons per day.

For the local water utility, serving Foxconn will require the construction of new pipes and three “booster stations” to provide the energy needed to pump water to higher elevations. Foxconn will likely need to pretreat their wastewater before sending it back to water utility. The water utility itself will return treated water to Lake Michigan.

Electronics manufacturers employ several methods for treating and filtering out contaminants, one of which involves boiling down metals-ridden wastewater into what some refer to as a “waste cake.” How securely a manufacturer stores its waste, and where it ultimately sends it for long-term containment, though, is another question with implications for groundwater and surface water quality as well as soil contamination in the surrounding area.

How the state of Wisconsin moves forward and what they require of Foxconn with regard to water use and treatment will have a significant impact on similar manufacturing deals in the future. Electronics manufacturers may increasingly find the Great Lakes region more attractive as water resources become scarce and demand for water-intensive manufacturing grows. Regional governments must continue working to strike the right balance between economic development and water quality, and in state-specific cases like this, the Great Lakes Compact provides little guidance.


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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.