Source: http://www.wausaudailyherald.com, September 18, 2015
By: Nora G. Hertel
It doesn’t look like much is happening on the contaminated site of an old dry cleaner on Wausau’s Second Avenue. But machines have been working for the past year to clear lingering chemicals there, and neighbors will clear some overgrown foliage on the plot this weekend.
The city’s Community Development Authority owns the land at 303 S. Second Ave. — the former home of Kraft Cleaners next to a Domino’s pizza franchise.
“I’m looking forward to a day when all that space is cleaned up,” said Ann Hunger, co-owner of Travel Leaders in the Clarke Building, right next to the contaminated site. “I think the city could do more to make it look more presentable.”
Much of the near west side was categorized as blighted in 2012. And a series of stories by Daily Herald Media in July showed that while the city has plans to reinvigorate the neighborhood, residents want to see investments now to battle blight, crime and parking challenges in the area. The city has invested millions more on the east side of downtown along the Wisconsin River than on the west. After a listening session held by Daily Herald Media a group of local business leaders assembled to make their own impact.
Volunteers and organizers with the new group West Side Pride will assemble Saturday for their first neighborhood cleanup and clear some weeds from the old dry cleaning spot.
A year ago the city installed a system to draw vapors from the soil and another, larger machine was added in late spring to help said Kevin Fabel, environmental engineer for the city of Wausau.
“It sucks the contamination out of the ground,” Fabel said. The contaminant, perchloroethylene or PCE, was a standard dry cleaning chemical decades ago, he said. “Once it’s in the ground, it really doesn’t go away on its own.”
The city has been working on the site for the past five years or so, Fabel said, beginning with lots of soil and water testing. In 2014, chemical vapors were found to have leached into nearby businesses and apartments from contamination there and led to a delay in 2014 of Second Avenue street reconstruction.
That project will likely be delayed again, but not because of old contaminants. City Council members will vote next Tuesday on whether to put off that street renovation project for Clarke Street and Second Avenue.
“Even though there’s a clean up going on, there’s no imminent danger to any one in the area,” Fabel said.
The state Department of Natural Resources has been involved with the city on clearing the site’s pollutants. Wausau’s been approved for up to $350,000 in reimbursements for the project, said Lisa Gutknecht, a Wausau-based hydrogeologist with the DNR.
The DNR reviews and approves clean-up expenses and makes sure the project follows state regulations, she said. “I think they’ve addressed the majority of it, so they’re well on track to getting it cleaned up.”
There’s still years left of work.
If the plot will be capped and turned into a parking lot, it will still require about two more years of mitigation, Fabel said. If the city wants to turn the land into a park or something other than a parking lot, it will require those machines to keep clearing vapors for five to six more years.
“It would appear that we would take it to the point of a parking lot,” said Community Development Director Ann Werth. That’s because just reaching the parking lot level of decontamination will cost more than the $500,000 the development authority can get from the state for the site, she said.
Hunger, at Travel Leaders next door, would like to see a new storefront there to keep improving the near-west-side neighborhood.
“To compare the east side and the west side (of the city) and what’s been spent over there… that’s frustrating,” Hunger said. “I think this side of the city has lots of potential for growth for incoming new business. It’s become kind of an eclectic neighborhood. And it could continue to grow like that.”
The group West Side Pride will assemble with volunteers at 9 a.m. Saturday to clear weeds, collect litter and plant a garden to spruce up the west side of down town.