Damakant Jayshi

The Wausau Water Works Commission on Tuesday approved spending more than $83,000 on PFAS supplemental consulting work from Wood Environmental & Infrastructure Solutions, Inc.

The firm proposed pilot testing, column testing, engineering evaluation peer review, defining next phases of Wausau’s PFAS response and managing risk communication and public relations. The proposed fee is $83,343. 

Wood Environmental & Infrastructure Solutions, Inc. is an additional firm hired by the city to address the PFAS issue. The city has already hired Donohue & Associates and Becher Hoppe for a pilot study to suggest options on PFAS removal. Joe Gehin, an employee at Becher Hoppe, is a member of the Wausau Water Works Commission.

After voluntarily testing its wells for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, the city detected the chemicals at levels ranging from 23 to 48 parts per trillion (ppt). The levels exceed the proposed Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) future drinking water standard of 20 ppt, a level based on recommendations from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). All Wausau wells were above DHS recommendations, prompting the city to provide bottled water and filter pitchers to residents.

On April 14, the commission voted to hold negotiations with Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions, Inc., on PFAS treatment and its removal from the city’s drinking water system. The decision was made one week after six consulting firms, including Wood, had presented their proposals detailing how they would work with the city to treat and remove PFAS.

Wausau, which had engaged Mueller Communications to shape their public relations, will transition the work to Wood. Commissioner John Robinson pointed out the duplication of the services by Mueller and Wood, while Director of Public Works and Utilities Eric Lindman said that city officials would prefer the new consultant to handle communications since the information will become more technical as the work progresses.

“We need the ability to explain that to the general public,” he said.

The Commission also approved Lindman’s recommendation to establish a budget for the work that Mueller Communications has been providing, but the commission reduced the proposed amount from $25,000 to $20,000.

During Tuesday’s meeting, representatives from Donohue & Associates briefed the commission about the pilot study. An attached document said the firms are continuing to collect samples and are compiling and assessing data. They suggested continuing the study through May or even for a longer period.

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The commission’s meeting was presided by Common Council president, Becky McElhaney, instead of Mayor Katie Rosenberg, who is president of the Wausau Water Works Commission.

(To read Wood’s scope of work proposal, click here and go to page 55. For Donohue’s briefing on the pilot study, go to page 62.)

DPW: Staffing shortage, hiring challenges and retention ‘concerning’

Lindman told the Wausau Water Works Commission that his department’s work has been impacted by a staffing shortage and ongoing hiring challenges. In a memo presented to the commission, Lindman said that some of the actions by the city’s leaders, like changes related to pay and quicker promotion to employees were positive “but have not been enough for us to fill our positions.”

Commissioner Joe Gehin said the problem is not just about the staffing shortages but also retention of existing employees. Terming the situation “scary,” Gehin said the city needs to address it quickly, by offering incentives to prospective hires and existing employees. He also proposed forming a task force, if needed, to address the problem. 

Staff say the pay offered by the city is comparatively lower compared to other employers, a situation that is impacting hiring. Those with engineering degrees are “not going to work for the city at $22 and hour,” said Scott Boers, Superintendent of the Drinking Water Division.