Your tax dollars helped pay for a local Fortune 500 company to go green

Your tax dollars helped pay for a local Fortune 500 company to go green

By Jermont Terry and Tim Meulemans. CREATED Jul 15, 2013 - UPDATED: Jul 15, 2013

MILWAUKEE - No one would say it’s a bad idea to help the environment. People believe green projects are good idea. Green roofs even help stop lawns from flooding.

But when the I-Team looked deeper into the green initiative, we found a lot of taxpayers' green dollars are going to a company that already has plenty of green.

Clyde Lee always worries about his basement flooding whenever it rains for several days. "I've never gotten anything since I've been here," he said.

That’s why Lee is shocked to hear the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District is giving away money. The money isn’t going to Mr. Lee, but to a fortune 500 company. MMSD is giving grants to business to put plants on top of buildings to soak up rain water.

"We have about 50,000 square feet of green on our roof,” said Marja Thurman with Rockwell Automation.

Rockwell is the biggest recipient of the grant. This company makes billions and now it’s going green for less because taxpayers picked up most of the tab. 

“I would think it’s taxpayers money wasted, that's the way I see it,” said Lee. Lee believes we are flushing money down the drain. He has cleaned sewage and flood waters from his house on Lincoln Creek Parkway in Milwaukee for years. That’s why he questions why this company received so much money.

“We went through all of this and we didn't get a thing,” said Lee. For the past decade MMSD has poured millions of dollars into green initiatives. It uses rain barrels, rain gardens and green roofs.

Now green roofs are sprouting up all over the city. Many of these paid in part with tax dollars.

"The company is always trying to save energy and do things for the environment and this happened to be a real good project for us," explained Dave Antonson of Rockwell Automation.

Usually MMSD pays $5.00 per square foot for green roofs. But for Rockwell it paid more than three times that, at $16.00 a square foot. The Rockwell green roof is just over one million dollars, but MMSD footed $800,000.

"If we're going to do it, let's do a high profile one. We wouldn't want to do a pilot project and then have nobody see it and not be able to tout the benefits," said Kathy Sands with MMSD. 

While some question the benefit of the rooftops, other businesses like the Urban Ecology Center insist despite the price tag it’s worth it. 

“When you flush a toilet in the urban ecology center, your flushing rainwater," explained Ken Leinbach, with the Urban Ecology Center.

Leinbach sees the problem as a solution. “We have free water from the sky, that falls every 3 to 7 days," said Leinbach. At the center when it rains it’s collected, stored and then used in pipes and ponds for watering. 

“If only the non-profits do it...that's not going to be the message that needs to be sold. It needs to be sold that everybody can do this,” explained Leinbach.

But as Clyde Lee keeps a watch out for rain days he hopes the water stays outside. Leinbach hopes the next time you see the Rockwell clock people will remember your money is working.

According to MMSD’s website anyone receiving the grant is required to match 50 percent of it. But in this case Rockwell paid 30 percent.