Planning for Sheboygan River pollutant site launched

By Jeff Pederson
for The Beacon

The Sheboygan Falls Common Council has approved a proposal to designate Fehr Graham to develop  a master plan for the contaminated Tecumseh property.

During a previous Economic Development Committee meeting held Jan. 15, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources representative Thomas Wentland reviewed the history of the former Tecumseh property, which was designated an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) SuperFund site in the late 1980s due to polychlorinated byphenyl (PCB) contamination.

Wentland stated that the Tecumseh property was classified as a contaminated EPA Superfund site in 1989, while noting the original goal of removing the contaminated PCB sediment from the Sheboygan River to the mouth at Lake Michigan has since been completed.

However, he noted that the concrete slab from the old Tecumseh building, which still sits on the property, remains a source of concern.

“The concrete slab from the old Tecumseh building was used as a watering site for the contaminated sediment from the river before it went to the landfill,” Wentland said on Jan. 15. “Since the PCBs were removed, the site has stayed the same for years fenced and closed off to the public. There has been some talk recently of closing the Superfund site. The owner, or responsible party, of the site is Pollution Risk Services, or PRS, which has the obligation to clean up the site at this point.”

Wentland went on to state that the site has yet to be cleaned up to the Wisconsin DNR’s standards.

“The state looks at the total picture to close out a SuperFund site,” Wentland said. “At this point, only the PCBs have been removed and no other possible contaminates have been considered.

“I’ve heard that PRS has offered the site to the city for a very low price,” he said. “I’m here to tell the city that there is more work to be done at the site. This is not over yet, so the city needs to be careful in how it proceeds. From the DNR’s point of view, PRS’ cleanup of the Tecumseh site is not adequate.”

Wentland said the wheels are in motion for the DNR to complete a site assessment.

“We have inquired with the EPA about the potential of securing an EPA grant for the DNR to do a site assessment to determine what contamination may still exist at the site,” Wentland said. “We are hoping to receive the final word from the EPA about this in April.

“We don’t know if the ground under the slab is contaminated,” he said. “We would need to do a site assessment to find out. If contaminates are found, we need to come up with a plan to avoid a direct contact issue, but we need to find out what is there first.”

During the Jan. 15 Economic Development Committee meeting, committee members heard from representatives from Fehr Graham, who stressed the importance of putting together a conceptual plan for the site, which would help in moving the process of redeveloping the land for city use forward.

The Economic Development Committee agreed to recommend enlisting Fehr Graham to assist in developing a conceptual master plan for the site at a cost of $11,000, with a city park topping the list of potential uses.

Prior to the Common Council taking a vote on whether to go forward with developing the conceptual plan, Alderman Tom Bigler expressed his reservations about the process.

“After hearing about the site assessment that is currently going on at our last committee meeting, I called the DNR to see what is actually happening,” Bigler said. “I found out that they are not doing soil testing or anything like that. Instead, it is only a paper test, so they are simply reviewing the documents for the property that already exist, rather than testing the land.

“In any case, I was told that this process could drag out for a number of years as we may not get any concrete answers about possible contamination on the site for quite some time,” he said. “Therefore, I’m wondering if we are jumping the gun by going forward with this conceptual plan at this time. To me, we don’t know enough about what is going on there to move forward. I think we are doing this too soon. We should wait until we have more answers from the DNR and EPA and then think about moving forward.”

The rest of the council members did not agree with Bigler’s stance.

“To me, we need to put a plan together in order to move this process forward and be ready when the time comes,”

 Alderman Al Mayer said. “Waiting will only put us further behind in this process. It is true that we don’t have definitive answers about the level of contamination around the slab, but I don’t think that should stop us from putting together a conceptual plan.

“A park has been discussed quite a bit, but we don’t really know yet what the plan will actually look like,” he said. “It may be a park and it may not be a park. Either way, it is best for us to have a plan in order to have something for the DNR, EPA and PRS to see and listen to. With a plan, something might happen at some point. Without a plan, the property is sure to sit dormant indefinitely.”

Alderman Pete Weber echoed Mayer’s thoughts.

“Nothing is happening there now and it is correct that the status of the contamination is still up in the air,” Weber said.

“However, we heard at the last meeting that the DNR and EPA are asking us to come up with some kind of plan to get things going, which can at least be used to start a discussion with them and PRS about would the future of the property could be.

“If we don’t do anything, 10 years from now, the property will still be the same as it is today,” he said.

“Now is the time for us to do some planning. To me, we should definitely be moving forward with developing a conceptual plan at this time.”

Mayor Randy Meyer also voiced his opinion in favor of moving forward with the master plan.

“There is definitely a challenge here as to the course of direction to take,” Meyer said. “If we leave it in the hands of the DNR and EPA, we will very likely have the same property as we have today in 10 years.

“We have asked Fehr Graham to develop a master plan and be an advocate for us and this plan will be designed to put pressure on the responsible party to come up with cap solutions down the road.

Alderman Paul Jensen agreed will moving forward with the master plan at this time.

“I believe having a master plan will help push this whole thing forward,” Jensen said.

Following a spirited discussion, the motion to partner with Fehr Graham to develop a conceptual plan for the former Tecumseh property at a cost of $11,000 was approved by a vote of 5-1 with Bigler casting the lone vote against the motion.

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