By Shereen Siewert

WAUSAU — City leaders next week will issue request for proposals to redevelop a portion of the northeast riverfront property obtained by the city as part of a $16 million relocation and expansion for Great Lakes Cheese and Wausau Chemical.

City leaders in July 2017 approved plans to relocate the two riverfront businesses to Wausau’s Business Campus. In exchange for millions in incentives, the businesses agreed to transfer their properties to the city for $1. Great Lakes Cheese has already completed its transition, while the Wausau Chemical move is pending.

The request for proposals is due to be released Aug. 8 with a due date of Sept. 27, according to city documents. But questions remain over how the property, which was identified in 1988 by the Environmental Protection Agency as a Superfund site, can and will be repurposed. The Superfund designation was made after analysis of water samples taken from various taps within the city showed evidence of contamination with hazardous substances — a discovery that also prompted a federal lawsuit.

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.

Also, according to the deed restriction, if soil beneath the current building is excavated in the future, the soil must be sampled and analyzed and could be considered solid or hazardous waste. If any residual contamination is found, the soil would need to be stored, treated and disposed of in compliance with EPA regulations and federal law.

In an email to Wausau Pilot and Review, Wausau Economic Development Director Chris Schock acknowledged the deed restriction but said “the use proposed in the RFP would then likely determine what remediation may be required.”

In February 2017, Conestoga-Rovers & Associates, a Minnesota-based environmental consulting and engineering group, performed a site investigation at Wausau Chemical to aid the city “in their decision whether to acquire the property,” according to the report. Conestoga-Rovers conducted soil and vapor analysis and concluded that the current contaminant level did not impact groundwater, but “represents a future potential source to groundwater contamination if the building is removed and the soil is not remediated.”

“Under future residential use of the property, soil vapor concentrations indicate that the soils beneath the building could create conditions that could exceed residential indoor air standards unless remediation occurs or an engineered barrier/mitigation system is installed,” the report reads.

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.

The request for proposals, which will be discussed at Tuesday’s meeting of the economic development committee, calls for interested parties to submit a draft site plan for one or both properties, a proposed purchase price and use of the area, estimated construction value and any request for city participation.

Site history

According to a 1991 lawsuit between Wausau Chemical and the company’s insurer, Maryland Casualty:

  • In the late 1960’s or early 1970’s, an unknown quantity of perchloroethylene was spilled from a railroad tank car on the railroad right-of-way adjacent to Wausau Chemical, about 200 feet to the east of the Wausau Chemical plant.
  • In approximately 1974, an unknown quantity of acetone was spilled at Wausau Chemical.
  • In or about November 1981, approximately 100 gallons of mineral spirits were spilled at Wausau Chemical.
  • Between December 1982 and February 1983, about ten gallons of perchloroethylene were spilled in the truck bay within the Wausau Chemical plant.
  • On or about February 15, 1983, 137 gallons of perchloroethylene were spilled at Wausau Chemical, on a loading dock located near the northwest corner of the plant.
  • In April 1983, approximately 10 to 15 gallons of a solvent blend were spilled.
  • On December 19, 1983, approximately 800 to 900 gallons of perchloroethylene were spilled from a bulk storage tank located in Wausau Chemical’s “tank farm.” The tank farm, which has since been removed, was located on the south end of the Wausau Chemical plant.
  • In May 1975, the City of Wausau encountered strong odors when it began excavation for an addition to its water treatment plant, immediately to the south of Wausau Chemical’s North River Drive facility. Analysis of the groundwater at the construction site by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources indicated the presence of perchloroethylene, trichloroethylene, xylene and toluene.
  •  On June 24, 1975, the DNR issued an emergency order requiring Wausau Chemical to “immediately cease any activity on its [North River Drive] property that would allow the entrance of further chemical contaminants in the groundwater and soils of the state” and to make “improvements on its … facility and operations … to assure that no chemicals stored in or handled at said facility enter the soils or waters of this state.”
  • In June 1984, the United States Environmental Protection Agency initiated a removal action in response to contamination of groundwater at the Wausau Groundwater Contamination Site, which encompassed all groundwater used for the City of Wausau’s water supply. The removal action included the installation of a Granular Activated Carbon system and an air stripper to treat the contaminated groundwater and investigation to define the threat to the environment
  • On August 15, 1984, Wausau Chemical notified its insurers of the EPA and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources investigations of the chemical spill.
  • On or about December 2, 1985, Wausau Chemical received a letter from EPA giving notice of contamination of the Wausau Wisconsin groundwater. In the letter, the EPA requested that Wausau Chemical undertake certain removal or remedial action to address the groundwater contamination under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act of 1980.
  • In November 1987, the United States filed a federal lawsuit against Wausau Chemical and James E. Cherwinka, alleging that hazardous substances, including perchloroethylene, had been detected in groundwater beneath the Wausau Chemical facility, in groundwater in the Wausau Contamination Site, and in tap water originating from city’s wells.