By Shereen Siewert

City officials in Wausau will hear from the public and discuss possible contamination mitigation on city-owned property near Thomas Street this week, after a request by a city council representative.

At issue is whether to correct a zoning error at 1300 Cleveland Avenue, a property with demonstrated environmental contamination traced to decades of manufacturing operations. The property was rezoned in November 2018 by the Wausau City Council, who unanimously supported changing the zoning from industrial to residential on the property, ensuring no further manufacturing operations would be allowed there. That also meant that any environmental cleanup on the property would be held to a more stringent standard.

According to a memo by City Planner and Interim Development Director Brad Lenz, the property was reclassified in 2019 during a city-wide rezoning project. Lenz, in his memo, said the property had been mapped using its historical zoning district, which was industrial.

“This was a mapping error that was not discovered until after the citywide map had been adopted (in 2019),” Lenz wrote.

Consequentially, the residential standard approved by the council no longer applies.

Some residents are concerned that the zoning change could pave the way for future operations by either of two nearby companies – Kolbe & Kolbe and 3M – both of which proposed purchasing the property last year to expand their operations. Dist. 3 Alderman Tom Kilian, who represents the district where the property lies, said he wants the city to correct the error. Last week, he asked for members of the public to weigh in on the matter and the city’s Plan Commission agreed to allow public comment.

Those comments will be considered during a Committee of the Whole meeting set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 407 Grant St., Wausau.

Members of the public can submit comments by registering to speak at the meeting or by submitting written comment in advance at this link.

During the meeting, GEI Consultants will present soil and groundwater sampling results for the property, part of an environmental study released in January. The 360-page report, included in city documents, show significant contamination at the site and note levels of potentially cancer-causing contaminants at as much as four times the industrial standard in some areas of the property. Wausau acquired the property in 1986.

See the full report here.

So far, public comments have been largely in favor of correcting the zoning error and remediating the soil to acceptable standards, according to city documents. Some residents are asking the city to disallow any additional industrial use for the property as well. I

Sandy Bautsch, of Wausau, said she strongly opposes 3M expanding operations on the site.

“The responsible party must be held accountable for gross contamination and remediate the land to the industries highest standards, at their expense,” Bautsch wrote. “Wausau residents deserve safe living environments, not poisonous soil.”

In an email to council members, former Dist. 11 Alder Dennis Smith noted the difficulty of the task at hand, given the property’s long history of environmental contamination. But Smith also said he hopes the property will not be zoned for industrial use in the future.

“I can sympathize with the city as it tries to do what is best for the citizens who live in the properties that surround this property all the while trying to control the costs that will be involved in remediating the property,” Smith wrote. “I would like to see the property designated for general use of the people of Wausau as some type of green space or possibly a new dog park. There seems to be plenty of space for such use and devoting the land to this purpose and by doing so there may be state or federal funds available to help reduce he overall cost.”

Council members will discuss potential plans to determine best property use for the land during Tuesday’s meeting, but no action items are on the agenda.