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Environmental group, city clashes over Riverside Park testing

in News

By Shereen Siewert

After a contentious meeting Tuesday of the city’s parks and recreation committee, officials again postponed taking any action on testing soils in Riverside Park, a discussion that has been ongoing for many months.

Public Works Director Eric Lindman speaks Sept. 3 to the Wausau Parks and Recreation Committee.

Public Works Director Eric Lindman spoke to the committee to explain his recommendation that city officials hold off on any testing until Sentry Insurance-owned WAULECO finishes state-ordered testing, the results of which are expected in October or November. Lindman acknowledged that the planned WAULECO testing, however, involved just one sample in the roughly five-acre park and will only involve testing for dioxin.

By contrast, the REI proposal under consideration called for screening using a photoionization detector to identify the presence of organic vapors in the soil. Samples collected will be submitted for Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs; Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, or PAHs; Pentachlorophenol, or PCP; dioxins/furans; and priority pollutant metals such as arsenic and lead.

“We’re concerned about the status of Riverside Park and there’s only one test Wauleco is performing in Riverside Park?” Dist. 11 Council Member Dennis Smith asked. “It seems to me that there’s really no reason for us to delay it. They’re not going to be testing what we’re testing.”

During the meeting, REI representative Ken Lassa presented the a second revision to the company’s original 20-boring plan, which has now been pared down to six borings and has been reduced from $71,000 to about $36,000. Citizens for a Clean Wausau spokesman Tom Kilian, after being invited to the podium to offer his insight on what contaminants WAULECO’s testing may include, criticized the pared-down plan in part because it calls for groundwater testing, an element that both Smith and Kilian pointed out are not relevant since groundwater pollution is already well-documented in the area and is not a risk to park-goers. In addition, Kilian said three of the six proposed soil samples did not fall in relevant areas of the park.

“That 6,600 spent on groundwater testing on what essentially was meant to be a soil study,” Kilian said. “That’s 20 percent lost for groundwater and another 17 percent goes to project management. That’s 37 percent of the budget for only three possible relevant samples.”

As he spoke, Kilian was interrupted several times by City Parks Director Jamie Polley and by Dist. 3 Council Member Dave Nutting, who represents the residents in the Riverside Park area and has consistently voted against testing.

Polley said Kilian keeps “downgrading staff” and said he failed to offer specific recommendations of where samples should be taken.

“You are now picking apart this report,” Polley said. “If this is how it’s going to go every meeting , I have to ask what is going to make the group satisfied? Before you keep downgrading staff you need to keep to the point you’re trying to make.”

But Kilian said his group did indeed provide recommended testing zones during his July presentation.

“We were invited by Mr. Smith to provide a presentation and we did provide a very thorough presentation,” Kilian said. “We presented three zones of testing, we presented the depth we recommended at testing, we even went so far as to recommend a specific EPA method of dioxin testing. This was done in great detail.”

Screengrab from a July 2019 Citizens for a Clean Wausau presentation on proposed testing in Riverside Park.

Nutting also interrupted Kilian, saying he is “growing very fatigued” of the discussion doesn’t know if it’s “possible to make the group happy.”

“I’m going to go right on the record and say that,” Nutting said. “This constant, constant, constant concern…quite frankly I don’t think the residents of the city want to fund all these borings.”

After Kilian resumed answering questions Nutting could be heard off-mic urging the committee chair to force Kilian to keep his comments to under three minutes.

Citizens for a Clean Wausau spokesman Tom Kilian addresses Wausau’s Parks and Recreation Committee during a Sept. 3, 2019 meeting.

Mayor Rob Mielke also took to the podium and said the city has “no money” for such testing.

“From a fiscal sense, the money that is involved in this, I do not have it right now,” Mielke said.

But Smith said during a finance committee last week, Finance Director MaryAnne Groat said the city has a significant amount of funds in a contingency fund.

“We’re not looking at $3 million dollars,” Smith said. “I think this should be settled and I think some of the reason its gone on sides with the city. We’ve been dragging our feet on this.”

Smith asked Kilian to submit a map showing specific locations to test in the park.

“You tell us where you want to bore and we’ll take a look at that,” Smith said. Kilian said he would submit the group’s request by the end of the week”

Dist. 1 Council Member Pat Peckham, who chairs the committee and has publicly voiced concern over the cost of environmental testing, took exception to the media’s characterization of his intent when he requested two revisions to the original plan. Those revised plans, Peckham said, were intended to be “another option” for the committee to review, “not revisions.”

“No one is trying to ram anything down anyone’s throat,” he said. “We want to get it right.”

The committee voted 4-1 to table the issue until the October meeting.

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