Plan calls for more than $1.2 M in property acquisition along corridor

By Shereen Siewert

WAUSAU — Preliminary plans for a controversial Thomas Street reconstruction project show the city would acquire more than $1.2 million in taxable property if the plan is approved.

City leaders are expected to discuss the proposal at Thursday’s capital improvements and street maintenance committee meeting, slated for 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. Representatives from AECOM will also be on hand to discuss the results of environmental testing performed in late August at the request of Mayor Rob Mielke. The tests, six boring samples taken beneath the soil’s surface, were contracted amid ongoing concerns from residents about potential toxicity in the soil.

Test results show soil samples along the corridor do contain dioxin and furan compounds, though at levels below state recommended limits, according to city documents. Since the tests were completed, city officials have deemed the area safe for construction.

Also at issue is what residents see as the potential destruction of their neighborhood. The preliminary plan calls for acquiring at least two dozen additional properties along the Thomas Street corridor. Those properties, valued collectively at more than $1.2 million, bring in about $30,000 in real estate taxes per year, including local, county, state and school levies.

The latest round of testing has not quelled residents’ concerns about potential toxins in the soil. Questions about environmental safety continue to swirl throughout the neighborhood, which surrounds property that was once the site of a manufacturing plant. Residents say they are not satisfied with the current level of testing, which did not include testing the top layer of the soil.

They point to test results from a 2008 lawsuit that analyzed surface soil and indoor dust samples throughout the River street neighborhood.

Results of those samples revealed the continued presence of dioxins more than 25 times the EPA recommended level, according to court documents.

But in this round of testing, no surface soil or indoor dust samples were collected.

The lawsuit, filed by 144 residents against Crestline/Wauleco, alleges at least 30 incidences of cancer in the area are directly related to contamination issues.

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, migrating into the River Street neighborhood and spreading dangerous levels of hazardous chemicals throughout the area.

The Crestline/Wauleco property at the heart of the lawsuit, which sits along the project corridor, is now owned by Sentry, court records show, which has also contracted AECOM for multiple Stevens Point-area projects..

Environmental issues throughout the neighborhood can be traced back decades in court and DNR documents as well as the files of former U.S. Rep. David Obey, which are stored at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.Thomas Street