By Shereen Siewert
WAUSAU — Despite an organized protest and ongoing concerns about environmental safety, a controversial Thomas Street project will move forward this spring.
Dozens of protesters lined the sidewalk in front of City Hall Tuesday holding signs and chanting “test the rest,” as they urged city council members to put the brakes on the project and allow for additional testing of area soils.
But those voices fell on deaf ears. Mayor Rob Mielke on Wednesday told Wausau Pilot and Review he will not veto the council’s 6-5 Tuesday night decision to approve the project, which seeks to rebuild the road from Fourth Avenue to the Wisconsin River.
Pat Peckham, Romey Wagner, David Nutting, Lisa Rasmussen, Joe Gehin and Sherry Abitz voted in favor of the project, while Tom Neal, Gary Gisselman, Becky McElhaney, Karen Kellbach and Dennis Smith were opposed.
Council President Lisa Rasmussen said the city has worked with residents to mitigate their concerns about the loss of homes on the north side of Thomas Street. Changes to the original plan could potentially save 12 of 15 homes slated for demolition.
During the protest, Lou Larson said that while he’s relieved that the changes mean his home will be saved, he is more concerned about the potential impact that disturbing contaminated soil could have on the entire community. Independent testing, paid for by a group of residents, showed the presence of dioxins/furans in area soils that exceed allowable limits.
“Why aren’t they listening?” Larson asked.
City officials say they will work with the DNR to ensure the project is safe.
Neighborhood resident Tom Kilian, who participated in the protest, called the vote disappointing, but said he won’t stop fighting for the safety of the neighborhood.
“Despite tonight’s outcome, I don’t intend to stop pushing for further testing of the neighborhood’s surface soils,” Kilian said.
It is not yet clear whether the group that paid for the testing, Citizens for an Environmentally Safe Thomas Street Neighborhood, will mount a legal challenge to the project.