Damakant Jayshi

Despite overwhelming opposition from neighborhood residents and some city council members, 3M is continuing its push to purchase city-owned property to expand operations.

3M is one of two companies seeking a portion of the property at 1300 Cleveland Avenue, which is undergoing state-mandated environmental testing. The council this week unanimously approved a budget for $98,500 for the testing, which the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is mandating due to high levels of contamination detected in the area. Depending on results and subsequent DNR review, the site could see further testing or enter a remediation phase, said Wausau Public Works Director Eric Lindman, during Tuesday’s meeting . 

Once remediation is complete, the city will decide the land’s ultimate use. Lindman said 3M seeks to buy about “25% to 30%” of 1300 Cleveland Ave., while the Department of Public Works is also contemplating expanding their operations on the property

Later, Lindman told Wausau Pilot & Review that 3M and Kolbe & Kolbe are both continuing their pursuit of the property despite rezoning and public opposition.

The roughly 7-acre parcel, once operated by a business suspected of dumping hazardous waste into the environment, is surrounded largely by residential homes. Tests so far unearthed potentially cancer-causing contaminants at as much as four times the industrial standard in some areas. 

In April, the City Council rezoned the parcel from industrial to residential after residents mounted strong opposition to any further industrial activity in the neighborhood. 

3M also sought help from state Rep. Pat Snyder (R-Schofield), who obliged. 

Snyder attended Tuesday’s meeting to speak in favor of selling the parcel sought by 3M. In his comments, Snyder said 3M wants to purchase the space to house empty rail cars and increase their operating capacity.

The company would ‘take care of any EPA problem’ and also erect a barrier between the site and the nearby residential area, Snyder said. But the neighborhood houses a higher than average number of low-income families, many of which have long opposed any such expansion of 3M or any other manufacturing operation.

Snyder later told Wausau Pilot & Review that 3M’s general manager asked him for help because “ no one from the city was listening to them,” adding that the neighborhood residents are “extra sensitive to any type of development in their area.”

Snyder, who has received campaign contributions from 3M, vehemently denied that campaign finance played any role in making his case for the company. 3M contributed $250 and $500 in October 2018 and October 2020 respectively to Snyder’s campaign, according to campaign finance records. 

“Why do people make everything political?” Snyder said. “I am not forcing the council to take a decision favoring the company; just asking them to consider their case.”

In a prepared statement Mario Diaz, 3M Wausau’s Plant Director,  said 3M values “being a member of the Wausau community for over 90 years. We provide good employment opportunities, support our union members, donate to local charities and bring economic growth to the region.” 

He added that the final use for 1300 Cleveland has not been established. 

“We believe a deliberate approach to zoning, redevelopment and remediation of 1300 Cleveland would be the most cost-effective and beneficial route for the city,” Diaz said. “We are willing to work with the city and neighbors to develop the property that meets the interests of all parties. We look forward to that collaborative opportunity.”

Dist. 3 Alderman Tom Kilian, who represents a portion of the neighborhood surrounding the Cleveland Avenue property, said he was dismayed that the information about the Department of Public Works’ interest came during “a City Council meeting at 8:10 (p.m.)” rather than being circulated in a more timely manner. 

Kilian also objects to any potential sale of the property to either 3M or Kolbe.

“Public input to the city from the neighborhood and the community – in high volume – overwhelmingly and strongly rejected the 3M and Kolbe proposals for 1300 Cleveland Avenue, and it also overwhelmingly and strongly opposed any additional industrial expansion at all in the largely residential neighborhood,” Kilian said in a statement. “Given this fact and history, I am very surprised and disappointed that the City would still entertain these proposals or other industrial expansion, as they would be doing it against the will and voice of the people. In my opinion, continuing to entertain these proposals is neither just, nor indicative of a healthy local democracy.”

Kilian added he also surprised to learn last night that the property may be targeted for DPW (Department of Public Works) expansion “because, as far as I know, no one informed or looped in the alderperson – myself – about the possibility, much less the citizens I represent, even given the sensitive history of this property with many residents.” 

Kilian is now calling for a legitimate public participation process before any final decisions are made.

Damakant Jayshi is a reporter for Wausau Pilot & Review. He is also a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of GroundTruth Project that places journalists into local newsrooms. Reach him at damakant@wausaupilotandreview.com.

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