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Residents, activists plan demonstration leading up to Thomas Street vote

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By Shereen Siewert

WAUSAU — A group of area residents opposed to reconstruction along the Thomas Street corridor will demonstrate Tuesday outside Wausau City Hall, in advance of a crucial vote on the project.

The demonstration is set to begin at 5:30 p.m. The Wausau City Council is expected to vote on the project during the group’s regularly scheduled meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The demonstration will focus on environmental concerns surrounding the project.

In February, private testing of surface soils revealed exceedances of DNR non-industrial Residual Contact Levels (RCL) for dioxins on two separate city-owned properties located on this segment of the Thomas Street project. But the majority of properties’ surface soils in the project footprint have not been tested.

City officials have said publicly that the plan will move forward regardless of those test results, which have been under review by the Department of Natural Resources. The DNR is taking the position at this point that they don’t have adequate information to require further testing.

Wausau resident Judith Miller said she is dismayed at the DNR’s response to the testing and believes city officials are obligated to perform additional tests to protect the public.

“If you don’t have enough information, then the correct thing to do is to get more information,” said Miller, who plans to attend the protest but does not live in the River Street neighborhood. “The evidence is overwhelming. It is right in front of our faces. Reconstruction will only redistribute the contamination and put more people at risk.”

Much of the River Street neighborhood has had a well-documented history of environmental contamination traced back to the widespread use of Penta, a known carcinogen used in manufacturing at the former Crestline site. The current owner, Wauleco, was sued in 2008 by 144 people who claimed toxicity in the soil and groundwater that migrated from Crestline caused cancer and other health problems.

Rumors of cancers related to the contamination first reached the ears of Joel Lewis about five years ago. Lewis, who will be at the demonstration representing Citizen Action of Wisconsin, said he was dubious at first until concerned residents showed him evidence that convinced him the neighborhood is facing serious environmental issues.

“The folks who are organizing this are frustrated that the city is not taking them seriously,” Lewis said. “Maybe this is the best way to get them to listen to those concerns.”

Demonstration organizers say their goal is to urge city officials to perform further surface soil testing in other areas of the project footprint before moving ahead.

Members of the city’s capital improvements and street maintenance committee earlier this month narrowly approved moving forward with the project by a vote of 3-2. Lisa Rasmussen, Karen Kellbach and Sherry Abitz voted in favor of the plan, with Gary Gisselman and Becky McElhaney opposed.

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