County Sides with Vinland in PCB Fight

Posted Oct. 22, 2003

Winnebago board votes to oppose landfill disposal

By Ed Culhane
Post-Crescent staff writer

OSHKOSH — Vinland residents, opposed to the burial of Fox River PCBs in their town, won a symbolic victory Tuesday as Winnebago County supervisors voted unanimously to support their quest.

The board voted 36-0, with two absent, to indicate its support for glass furnace technology, or vitrification, as a method of dealing with PCB-contaminated sediments from Little Lake Butte des Morts.

“I sure would like to have my grandchildren and anyone else’s grandchildren not have to worry that at some point in time they may have to dig up these landfills,” said Supv. Joanne Sievert.

The state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have chosen to landfill the 784,000 cubic yards of sediment targeted for removal from the lake.

Two paper companies, Glatfelter and WTM I (formerly Wisconsin Tissue Mills), have agreed to pay $25 million each toward the $60 million cleanup and the Georgia Pacific paper company has offered the use of its landfill in Vinland, a town located just southwest of Neenah.

State and federal officials have said the agreement is likely to accelerate negotiations with paper companies on cleanup of much greater quantities of sediments at De Pere and Green Bay.

The resolution adopted Tuesday urges the county’s Solid Waste Management Board to formally petition the state Department of Natural Resources to reconsider its decision.

Supv. Pat O’Brien, chairman of the solid waste board, said DNR officials have made up their mind on the landfill option, believing it the fastest and most economical option.

“They don’t have enough information,” O’Brien said of state and federal regulators. “They’re out there right now taking core samples of sediments.”

Prior to the vote, glass furnace technology was explained by Terry Carroll of Minergy, which operates a sludge-burning furnace in Neenah.

An industrial-size glass furnace would melt the sediments, not burn them, while destroying all PCBs, Carroll said. Heavy metals like mercury would be safely bound up, on the molecular level, in the glass matrix.

The glass aggregate could be sold easily as an ingredient in asphalt, Carroll said. Melting the sediments would cost about the same as burying them, Carroll said, but exact cost comparisons can’t be made until design-scale engineering studies are done.

A key issue is time. Dredging and landfill disposal could take anywhere from two to six years, depending on project design. The economics of a sediment melter begin working at six or seven years.

“If they want to do OU1 (operating unit 1, or Little Lake Butte des Morts) in a two-year time frame, it makes no sense to build a melter,” Carroll said.

Town residents spoke to the board.

“As long as we have the problem, we have to take control and do it the right way,” said Nancy Zimmerman. “Why are they (government regulators) so insistent on this old-fashioned, inefficient (landfill) technology?”

County Board Chairman Joe Maehl of Neenah offered one explanation.

“The fact that they got the paper companies to put some very serious dollars … that is where the urgency is coming from,” he said.

Leonard Leverance, the county’s solid waste director, said it wasn’t the DNR pushing the gas pedal on the cleanup.

“It’s a political decision in Madison,” he said.

And that is where Vinland’s fight will be won or lost, supervisors said.

What’s next


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public meeting Oct. 29 on the agreement between two paper companies and the state and federal governments to remove PCB-contaminated sediments from Little Lake Butte des Morts. Representatives of the state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Department of Justice will join EPA staff to answer questions about the consent decree. The meeting runs from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Neenah Public Library, 204 E. Wisconsin Ave.

What are PCBs?

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, once used by paper firms and now banned in the United States, are a class of industrial chemicals that have been linked to reproductive and developmental problems in people, fish and other wildlife. Some medical experts also believe PCBs probably cause cancer.

Ed Culhane can be reached at 920-993-1000, ext. 216, or by e-mail at eculhane@