By Shereen Siewert
A state-mandated environmental work plan for an area that includes Riverside Park in Wausau was kept from the public and the city’s parks and recreation committee in January, even as city officials debated ongoing requests from residents to test soils in the park for contamination.
The environmental fitness of soils in Riverside Park have been debated for more than a year. Now, state documents show Wausau has been directed by the Department of Natural Resources to investigate and clean up documented contamination in a portion of the park, despite some city officials’ repeated claims that no such contamination existed.
In October, Public Works Director Eric Lindman told city officials that there was “nothing that says there (are) issues at Riverside Park.” But the Department of Natural Resources on Nov. 21 sent a letter to Lindman notifying him of the reported contamination, which the DNR learned about on Oct. 31. The environmental pollution was detected in an area at 132 River Street, which sits along the railroad tracks within the boundaries of the park, according to GIS mapping.
On Jan. 6, Lindman did acknowledge the DNR’s letter, telling the city’s parks and recreation committee that he “should have a plan put together in the next couple of weeks to give to the DNR for their review.”
But that statement conflicts with public documents that show the plan Lindman referred to was already complete and submitted to the DNR, dated Dec. 31, and was kept from the committee as members discussed public requests for testing to determine the environmental fitness of the park. Residents learned that the plan had already been completed and submitted to regulators on December 31 when they saw the information on the DNR’s website, which was confirmed by the DNR.
In an email to Wausau Pilot and Review, Lindman acknowledged that he failed to share the document with the committee because “the DNR has not yet reviewed the plan.”
“Before we present the information we would like the testing locations finalized and approved by the DNR,” Lindman said.
The DNR’s letter identifies Wausau as the responsible party for the “discharge of a hazardous substance or other environmental pollution” at the property.
For years, residents held concerns about soil contamination in Riverside Park and asserted there may be issues with soil dioxin levels in the park based on state standards, an assertion that appears to have been confirmed by state officials. As the debate raged on, Dist. 1 council member Patrick Peckham, who chairs the parks and recreation committee, continued to focus on toxicological opinions by the state Department of Health Services rather than recognizing the regulatory components of the situation — specifically that dioxin levels from soil samples in Riverside Park exceeded state standards.
After laboratory data is submitted, state law requires the city to submit a site investigation report, identify the current land use and zoning and submit a remedial action option report where contamination is detected.
Wausau will also be required to submit semi-annual site progress reports to the DNR until the state grants a case closure.
Lindman said the city’s consultant, REI, is proposing up to eight soil samples, though the DNR could require more or fewer after reviewing the plan.
“From my previous conversations with the DNR they would like the corridor investigated from the (area) where the three samples showing exceedances were taken all the way to the 3M property,” Lindman told Wausau Pilot and Review. “Once I hear from the DNR we will determine the best locations for attempting to delineate the contaminated area.”
Lindman said he expects to share the plan with the committee once it is finalized by the DNR.
Wausau Pilot and Review reached out to Peckham along with fellow parks committee members Dave Nutting, Gary Gisselman, Tom Neal and Dennis Smith for comment on this story. None have responded.