By Shereen Siewert
WAUSAU – Redevelopment on the Wausau Chemical riverfront site is subject to a deed restriction that forbids retail or residential development, according to a report from the Environmental Protection Agency.
City leaders on Tuesday approved a proposed $7.9 million plan to move Wausau Chemical to a new location within Wauau’s Business Campus to allow for redevelopment of the land, Mayor Rob Mielke announced last week. A similar plan was rejected by city council members in February 2015.
Wausau Chemical was identified in 1988 by the Environmental Protection Agency as a Superfund site because of the land’s contamination by hazardous waste that poses a risk to human health or the environment.
Wausau Economic Development Director Chris Schock told reporters on Thursday that the site has “no restrictions” for redevelopment. But the most recent inspection report, obtained by Wausau Pilot & Review, show the Wausau Chemical property has so far only been cleaned up to commercial or industrial standards and is subject to significant restrictions for redevelopment.
A deed restriction filed by the EPA in 2007 with the Marathon County Register of Deeds prohibits the property from being used for anything other than commercial or industrial purposes without undergoing an approval process. Construction of any water supply well on the site is also prohibited.
Also, according to the deed restriction, if soil beneath the current building is excavated in the future, the soil must be sampled and analyzed and could be considered solid or hazardous waste. If any residual contamination is found, the soil would need to be stored, treated and disposed of in compliance with EPA regulations and federal law.
In February 2017, Conestoga-Rovers & Associates, a Minnesota-based environmental consulting and engineering group, performed a site investigation at Wausau Chemical to aid the city “in their decision whether to acquire the property,” according to the report. Conestoga-Rovers conducted soil and vapor analysis and concluded that the current contaminant level did not impact groundwater, but “represents a future potential source to groundwater contamination if the building is removed and the soil is not remediated.”
“Under future residential use of the property, soil vapor concentrations indicate that the soils beneath the building could create conditions that could exceed residential indoor air standards unless remediation occurs or an engineered barrier/mitigation system is installed,” the report reads.
Schock denied that future cleanup costs would be significant and could not say who would ultimately foot the bill.
“I would disagree with ‘significant cleanup’ as that means different things to different folks,” Schock said. “All I can say is that we will understand it and it will have to be approved in the TIF plan before a deal is finalized.”
Wausau Chemical, has manufactured and sold detergents, dry cleaning products and chemicals since 1964 at its North River Drive site.
EPA reports from the Wausau site show that the soil beneath Wausau Chemical could contain significant contamination from a range of toxic chemicals. Under the terms of the proposal being discussed on Tuesday, Wausau Chemical will undergo up to two phases of environmental testing on the site and will be responsible for paying the associated testing costs, Schock said.
The Superfund law requires regular checkups of sites that have been cleaned up to ensure the cleanup continues to protect people and the environment, and the EPA assesses the Wausau site every five years. In addition to the groundwater monitoring conducted for the Superfund site, the city monitors the post-treatment water supply by performing quarterly sampling and analyses.
In its most recent assessment, filed in April 2015, EPA officials wrote that complete remediation of soils beneath the Wausau Chemical building is “impractical.” EPA’s cleanup included several groundwater wells with treatment systems, two soil vapor removal systems, a landfill cap, land and groundwater use restrictions and groundwater monitoring.
But the relocation term sheet is the start, not the end, of the process, laying out the city’s willingness to investigate options while requiring Wausau Chemical to undertake both phases of environmental testing, Schock said. The city will undergo TIF planning to determine exact funding streams to pay for any associated costs, said Shock, who noted that the plan calls for Wausau Chemical to pay taxes on a parcel that is 13 times their existing property valuation.
“All we are noting in this term sheet is that we will thoroughly understand what those costs are before a final decision is made in the TIF Plan (which the project is contingent on),” Schock wrote. “That plan has to be approved by no less than Finance, Plan Comm, Council and the Joint Review Board.”
According to a 1991 lawsuit between Wausau Chemical and the company’s insurer, Maryland Casualty:
- In the late 1960’s or early 1970’s, an unknown quantity of perchloroethylene was spilled from a railroad tank car on the railroad right-of-way adjacent to Wausau Chemical, about 200 feet to the east of the Wausau Chemical plant.
- In approximately 1974, an unknown quantity of acetone was spilled at Wausau Chemical.
- In or about November 1981, approximately 100 gallons of mineral spirits were spilled at Wausau Chemical.
- Between December 1982 and February 1983, about ten gallons of perchloroethylene were spilled in the truck bay within the Wausau Chemical plant.
- On or about February 15, 1983, 137 gallons of perchloroethylene were spilled at Wausau Chemical, on a loading dock located near the northwest corner of the plant.
- In April 1983, approximately 10 to 15 gallons of a solvent blend were spilled.
- On December 19, 1983, approximately 800 to 900 gallons of perchloroethylene were spilled from a bulk storage tank located in Wausau Chemical’s “tank farm.” The tank farm, which has since been removed, was located on the south end of the Wausau Chemical plant.
- In May 1975, the City of Wausau encountered strong odors when it began excavation for an addition to its water treatment plant, immediately to the south of Wausau Chemical’s North River Drive facility. Analysis of the groundwater at the construction site by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources indicated the presence of perchloroethylene, trichloroethylene, xylene and toluene.
- On June 24, 1975, the DNR issued an emergency order requiring Wausau Chemical to “immediately cease any activity on its [North River Drive] property that would allow the entrance of further chemical contaminants in the groundwater and soils of the state” and to make “improvements on its … facility and operations … to assure that no chemicals stored in or handled at said facility enter the soils or waters of this state.”
- In June 1984, the United States Environmental Protection Agency initiated a removal action in response to contamination of groundwater at the Wausau Groundwater Contamination Site, which encompassed all groundwater used for the City of Wausau’s water supply. The removal action included the installation of a Granular Activated Carbon system and an air stripper to treat the contaminated groundwater and investigation to define the threat to the environment
- On August 15, 1984, Wausau Chemical notified its insurers of the EPA and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources investigations of the chemical spilOn or about December 2, 1985, Wausau Chemical received a letter from EPA giving notice of contamination of the Wausau Wisconsin groundwater. In the letter, the EPA requested that Wausau Chemical undertake certain removal or remedial action to address the groundwater contamination under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act of 1980.
- In November 1987, the United States filed a federal lawsuit against Wausau Chemical and James E. Cherwinka, alleging that hazardous substances, including perchloroethylene, had been detected in groundwater beneath the Wausau Chemical facility, in groundwater in the Wausau Contamination Site, and in tap water originating from city’s wells.