By Shereen Siewert
WAUSAU — City leaders are projecting environmental cleanup costs at the Wausau Chemical property will be $217,300, according to an estimate presented Tuesday to the finance committee.
“There’s nothing new and shocking here,” said Economic Development Director Chris Schock, in his presentation to the committee. “There is nothing complex involved.”
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.
The cost estimate was part of a presentation on 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. City leaders are also close to approving a $5.9 million plan to move neighboring Great Lakes Cheese, and a $4.6 million plan to redevelop the business campus itself.
Council President Lisa Rasmussen, who also chairs the finance committee, commented during the meeting that the report, which is based on 2015 soil samples, “doesn’t sound like anything new has surfaced.”
The documents in Tuesday’s finance committee packet, posted online, made no mention of the results of any testing other than the 2015 soil samples.
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. (See embedded report below.)
Plans to move Wausau Chemical, along with neighboring business Great Lakes Cheese, has prompted significant debate among taxpayers about whether the city should take on the additional debt proposed for each plan. But Schock on Tuesday told finance committee members that the riverfront redevelopment is critical to Wausau’s growth.
“At times, we think Wausau is borrowing a lot for these improvements, but I’d almost say we need to do more,” Schock said.
Alderman Dennis Smith questioned whether moving Wausau Chemical was part of a larger, identifiable plan.
“It sounds to me like the plan is, we’re going to put something there, someday, is that right?” Smith asked Schock during the meeting.
“Right,” Schock said. “There’s a plan for this, and it will involve going out and getting (requests for proposals). Maybe it’s a commercial project, maybe it’s a residential project.”
Rasmusen said relocating both businesses will help build Wausau’s tax base while seeing significant future growth for the city.
“(Wausau Chemical) will pay multiple, multiple, multiple times more in taxes than they do today with this move,” Rasmussen said Tuesday.
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.
The $217,300 estimate, by engineering consultants at GHD in St. Paul, Minn., includes working with the Department of Natural Resources to remediate the site and allow for removal of the deed restriction. The estimate is subject to change “depending on the actual scope of the investigation and the selected remedial option approved by the DNR,” according to the proposal.
The estimate does not include demolition costs for the building.
“This report shows this certainly is a viable option, and at least confirms for us that there is nothing shocking or insurmountable here,” Rasmussen said.