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City documents: Most commenters oppose additional Thomas Street reconstruction

in Investigations

Potential soil contamination among top concerns

By Shereen Siewert

WAUSAU — Well over half of residents surveyed regarding the second phase of Thomas Street reconstruction plans oppose any additional roadway expansion, according to city documents.

In a memo to Wausau Public Works Director Eric Lindman, AECOM Project Manager Ryan Barz said 28 written comments were received following a June 26 public hearing about the project. Of those, 56 percent were opposed to any roadway expansion, 22 percent preferred the two-lane option, 14 percent preferred the four-lane option and 7 percent “did not discuss the number of lanes preferred.”

Two residents have told Wausau Pilot & Review that their comments were not included in a packet given to city officials. One resident whose comments were not included said she emailed comments and received a confirmation call from the mayor’s office. A second resident said she submitted forms for herself and two additional residents in person at the clerk’s office. Those forms are expected to be added to a revised packet this week.

Of the comments included in the count, one common theme is concern over existing soil contamination within the project area, according to the memo. Disturbing the soil could present safety and financial issues, city documents show.

Monitoring wells like this one dot the landscape of the River Street neighborhood. Some residents are concerned that additional Thomas Street construction plans will create an environmental hazard.

Concerns about soil contamination in the area can be traced back nearly 80 years, to a July 22, 1937 story in the Wausau Pilot, one of the city’s first newspapers. At that time, homeowners in the River Street area were already complaining to city leaders that chemical-laden dust from what was then the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company was damaging homes and harming the health of their children, according to the newspaper story.

Those concerns were echoed for decades, prompting significant debate and at least one lawsuit.

In May 2008, 144 residents filed suit against Wauleco Inc. alleging that dioxins in the soil damaged their health or their property. Wauleco is the current owner of the property that once housed Crestline.

According to the lawsuit, from about 1946 to 1986, manufacturing operations at what was then the Crestline site included treatment of wood products with a preservative called Penta, a chemical that is capable of causing both cancerous and non-cancerous diseases when ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin, according to the World Health Organization.

The lawsuit alleged that Penta was routinely spilled and discharged into the environment over a 40-year-period. The Penta migrated into the River Street neighborhood, spreading dangerous levels of hazardous chemicals throughout the area, according to the lawsuit.

One group of plaintiffs alleged their exposure to Penta had caused them to develop various health problems, including Hodgin’s lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, breast, cancer, liver cancer, brain cancer, stomach cancer, thyroid cancer, diabetes, thyroid disease and neurological problems, according to court documents.

All that remains at the Crestline site today is one building and a field containing several small wells. Those wells were used by the Department of Natural Resources to extract Penta from the ground. Additional groundwater monitoring wells are scattered throughout the neighborhood.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit in 2006 arranged for collection and analysis of surface soil and indoor dust samples throughout the River street neighborhood. Those sample results revealed the continued presence of dioxins more than 25 times the EPA recommended level, according to court documents.

The case has since been settled.

In 2008, 144 residents in the River Street neighborhood sued, claiming soil contamination caused cancer and other health problems.

Though the Department of Natural Resources has removed nearly 150,000 gallons of Penta from the ground since 1990, removal processes ceased in March 2011 after the agency declared the area safe.

But some residents aren’t convinced.

“As you know, this disturbance of the soil can release airborne dioxides that we can inhale, ingest and seep into our iver and park systems, not excluding our water treatment plant,” wrote Carolyn LaPorte, in a June 26 email to Lindman.

Another resident, Don Lewandowski, wrote, “I don’t think we should be demolishing more homes, displacing long-time residents from their homes, removing properties from the tax roll and disturbing contaminated soil, putting public health at risk in exchange for a bike lane and a turn lane.”

At least two businesses have also come out against reconstruction. Krist Atanasoff, on behalf of Krist Food Mart, 301 Thomas Street, opposes both reconstruction options amid concerns over negative impacts to his business. Both proposals would eliminate access to the convenience store for westbound traffic and could create new safety concerns for motorists, bicycles and pedestrians, according to Atanasoff’s written statement.

In her written statement, Linda Nowak, the manager of Tobacco Outlet, 1041 S. Third Ave., said both plans would eliminate eastbound access to the store’s parking lot and would result in a loss of parking space.

Lindman, however, is asking city leaders to approve one of the reconstruction options and move forward with a plan. In his memo to the city’s Capital Improvements and Street Maintenance committee, Lindman points to a crash rate on Thomas street more than twice the average rate for similar roads as one of the safety reasons the road should be reconstructed. In addition, Lindman points out, the sanitary sewer pipe beneath the street and the existing pavement have reached the end of their service lives.

“Staff is requesting the committee review the information provided and make a determination of a 2-lane alternative or 4-lane alternative as presented,” Lindman wrote, in a staff report to the CISM committee.

The CISM committee will discuss the issue at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, in a meeting that is open to the public. Any options approved by the committee are subject to full council approval.

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