By Shereen Siewert | Wausau Pilot & Review

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources today announced it has awarded brownfield assessment services to the city of Wausau to assist with the investigation of environmental contamination at several parcels along East Thomas Street.

The news comes roughly one month after Wausau’s Economic Development Committee approved seeking proposals to build single-family homes on vacant city-owned parcels, including several on Thomas Street. The infill project relies on American Rescue Plan Act funding, monies that must be committed by the end of the year.

The award announced on Thursday is from the DNR’s Wisconsin Assessment Monies program, which provides contractor services for the environmental assessment of eligible brownfield sites.

A brownfield is a property where expansion, redevelopment or reuse is complicated by real or potential contamination. Brownfields vary in size, location, age and past use; they can be anything from a 500-acre former automobile assembly plant to a small, abandoned gas station.

The award will support the assessment of environmental conditions at several vacant parcels the city owns along East Thomas Street. The area along East Thomas Street from Cleveland Avenue and the Wisconsin River was historically residential, situated within industrial properties.

Before investing in new residential developments on parcels the city has acquired over the years, officials said they wan to ensure that past nearby industrial operations will not have potentially negative health impacts on new occupants. Brownfield assessment services will provide Wausau with a better understanding of the environmental conditions, which will help with decision-making and cleanup planning.

“I think I speak for everyone from the staff who worked diligently to secure funding to the city council who voted to pursue single family homes to the dozens of neighborhood advocates who have been pressing the city for years that we are absolutely thrilled that the DNR has awarded this grant to Wausau,” said Wausau Mayor Katie Rosenberg. “We are one step closer to revitalizing this important Wausau neighborhood after several starts and stops and listening and visioning sessions. I cannot wait to see the new, safe, healthy and affordable homes that will meet Wausau’s growing housing needs. Many thanks to our partners in the DNR who are helping us actualize this critical housing project here in Wausau.”

Since 2009, the DNR’s Wisconsin Assessment Monies program has provided over $3.3 million in services and grant funds to over 70 communities across Wisconsin, partnering to help clean up and redevelop often run-down or underused properties that detract from a community’s potential. Because there is no local financial match required, the Wisconsin Assessment Monies program grants present an attractive opportunity for communities to learn about environmental conditions. Applications for assistance may be submitted to the DNR at any time.

“The DNR is pleased to be able to support Wausau as it plans for reuse of this area to meet the community’s need for more housing,” said Jodie Thistle, DNR Brownfields, Outreach and Policy Section Manager. “Evaluating whether the area was affected by environmental contamination will allow the city to take the next steps toward redevelopment.”

The DNR has a wide range of financial and liability tools available to help local governments, businesses, lenders and others clean up and redevelop brownfields in Wisconsin, including Ready for Reuse financial awards, which may be used for environmental cleanup. DNR staff around the state are available to meet with community leaders, bankers, developers and private individuals to discuss brownfield projects through Green Team meetings.

More information about the DNR’s brownfield cleanup programs and services is available on the DNR’s Brownfields webpage.