Copyright: Keith Bramley

Editor’s note: Wausau Pilot & Review gladly publishes commentary from readers, residents and candidates for local offices. The views of readers and columnists are independent of this newspaper and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wausau Pilot & Review. To submit, email editor@wausaupilotandreview.com or mail to 500 N. Third St., Suite 208-8, Wausau, Wis. 54403.

Dear editor,

On environmental justice, I will start by giving a definition by the EPA. Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.

I grew up in my family home located at 814 First St. Before my parents it was my grandfather’s home. He was the manager of the Grand Theater for many years and contributed greatly to this town’s entertainment and art life specifically. Both my parents were teachers in the Wausau School District and my mother was also religious education director at the UU Church of Wausau for a long time. My father was passionate about education and environmental issues. He filmed and photographed many places in Wausau, including the library redevelopment in the 90’s.

Not soon after, he passed away from a sudden heart complication after major heart surgery. It was then up to my Mom to take care of us three kids. She also had significant health issues that caused her great pain. She raised us to observe, ask questions, and most importantly, as Mr. Rogers says, “look for the helpers”, and “love always”. 

As a child and teenager myself , and my siblings/friends grew up playing in unfinished and also abandoned industrial waste. The current Riverlife area was once a huge sand mountain, like piles of dirt, old rusty barrels, and very unsafe old factory buildings. I played in the dirt and swam in the river. My mom wasn’t always pleased to find me down there as she knew the potential of harmful effects these waste sites left.

I was born with a genetic connective tissue disorder called hypermobile Ehlers Danlos syndrome. I was not correctly diagnosed or genetically tested to confirm chromosomal abnormalities until I was 31 years old. All that time doing unknown damage, I’ll probably never know the extent of and possible contributions of the environmental harms I lived in. I’m 33 years old and just now understanding the details my parents were often talking about.

Families were driven out of certain areas for redevelopment, all the while unknowingly getting sick from contaminated lands. After my Dad passed away my Mom was continuously harassed by the City to sell her property at a very low ball offer. Eventually she agreed and we moved to Hamilton Street. The differences in the wealthier historic Eastside neighborhoods were noticeable with how families who owned property were treated. I spent my adult life also working and raising my kids in this area. I dedicated my whole career to end of life CNA care.

I love helping people and ensuring everyone has a voice. Our family was not given the opportunity to play an active role on how , when, and why these redevelopments were done. The reason for this letter is not to change my past but make it better for future residents and families. Thank you for giving me the time to voice my concerns as a lifelong resident.

Elizabeth Wiskowski

Wisconsin Poor People’s Campaign, Wausau