Creation of the District: Support and opposition grow

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“Creation of the District: Support and opposition grow” is the third in a four-part series outlining the formation of the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District. Visit the History section of our blog for additional articles in the series, as well as “Flow of history…” articles documenting the early years of wastewater treatment in the Madison area.

By Paul Nehm

A tight deadline

Black and white exterior photo of the Wisconsin State Capitol Building and its dome in Madison, WI.
Wisconsin State Capitol Building in Madison, WI.

Following the meeting in the Capitol building on October 15, 1929, Middleton officials said they were willing to look further into the possibility of connecting to a metropolitan district. The following day they announced that they would delay work on their treatment plant for two weeks.

A committee composed of the mayors of Madison and Middleton, the president of Shorewood Hills and the chairmen of the towns of Madison and Middleton were assigned the task of directing a survey to determine the possibility of creating a metropolitan sewerage district. The committee was to work with engineers and attorneys and submit a report the following week.

Lake home residents resist

Middleton officials stated that although they were willing to cooperate in this endeavor, they were concerned that any additional cost of participating in a district may place them close to state indebtedness limits. Although there appeared to be an agreement to cooperate by the municipal officials, the Wisconsin State Journal noted that “a group of determined property owners adjoining Lake Mendota, however, was present to serve notice through attorneys that they would contest any system by which Middleton might discharge its effluent into the lake.”

The Middleton Times-Herald was also supportive of a regional entity, though its editor pointed out the tough situation that the Middleton village board was in. Even though it was well known during the first half of 1929 that if the village installed a sewer system the treatment plant would be in the marsh north of Broadway Gardens, there was no protest from lakeshore residents. Now that construction contracts had been awarded and the sewer system was being installed, these residents were now protesting the treatment plant.

Other concerns surface

Both the Capital Times and the county Rivers and Lakes Commission quickly voiced support for the creation of the metropolitan district. The Rivers and Lakes Commission did note, however, that the effluent from the Mendota State Hospital had a greater impact on the lake than would the effluent from the proposed Middleton plant.

The committee members also warned that the creation of the district would increase the flows to the Nine Springs plant which would cause “considerable agitation” to downstream residents. Within two days, an editorial appeared in the Capital Times from a resident concerned that the creation of a district would result in wastewater from Sun Prairie and surrounding towns also being routed to Nine Springs.

Research and petitions

During the next week, various individuals were busy working on this issue. The attorneys for Madison, Middleton and Shorewood Hills, along with Mr. Louis Warrick of the Board of Health, traveled to Milwaukee to talk to their City Attorney about that city’s experience with creating a metropolitan sewerage district. Madison’s City Engineer E.E. Parker and Water Utility Superintendent Smith worked on estimating the costs to each public entity if a district was created.

Other attorneys began drafting petitions for the formation of the district. Dr. C.A. Harper of the Board of Health invited the public to a meeting in the Capitol building to learn about the
metropolitan sewerage district.

The Wisconsin State Journal continued to push for the formation of a district. An editorial from October 29, 1929, predicted that growth would occur along the west end of Lake Mendota and that no one would want to build next to a treatment plant in that location. The Journal pledged to work to have the State’s Mendota Plant closed if Middleton would join the district.

The official petition

On November 5, 1929, the Wisconsin State Journal printed the petition for the creation of a metropolitan sewerage district. It acknowledged that the signers of the petition must be more than 5% of the voters in the last gubernatorial election. The petition had the following four sections:

  1. The name of the district would be the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District.
  2. The boundaries of the proposed district were stated.
  3. The reasons why the district was necessary were stated. Without an efficient means of sewage disposal, public health would be seriously endangered and local water bodies would become polluted.
  4. The proposed district would take over, operate and maintain City of Madison disposal plants, pumping stations and main sewers, as well as any future sewers that were extended into areas outside of the city of Madison.

Chauncey R. Blake, attorney for some of the residents in favor of creating the district, took responsibility for circulating the petitions. One hundred petitions were created. They were
available in the Madison City Clerk’s office, in some stores and from residents who agreed to circulate them. To meet the required 5% number of signers, a goal of 1,500 signatures was

When the petitions were distributed, Middleton Village President Piersdorff and Attorney Lucas said that Middleton was ready to accept the plan for the district if it could be shown that the cost to Middleton would be no greater than that of its proposed plant. They asked for quick action so there would not be a delay in meeting their sewerage needs.

Map of the proposed district raises other concerns

On November 6, 1929, the Wisconsin State Journal printed a map of the lands that would be included in the proposed district. This included the City of Madison and lands in the Townships of Madison, Middleton, Westport, Burke and Blooming Grove.

The main resistance to the formation of the district appeared to be a concern for the inclusion of significant amounts of farmland in the original boundary. The concern was that these lands would be taxed by the district but would not expect to receive service for quite a while. This concern was especially prevalent in the Town of Blooming Grove and the Town of Middleton.

There were residents in these jurisdictions, however, who viewed modern sewage facilities as an inevitable necessity. Among these in the Town of Blooming Grove was Frank Blied, who later was appointed as one of the original Commissioners of the District.

Some of the information for the article series was found in “Madison – A History of the Formative Years” by David V. Mollenhoff and in articles written by early leaders from Madison’s public works sector. The article was originally published in the Summer 2022 edition of the District’s newsletter, The Clarifier.