Paper Companies to Cleanup PCBs

Posted Oct. 01, 2003

Glatfelter, WTM 1 reach agreements with state, federal officials

By Ed Culhane
Post-Crescent staff writer

Two paper companies have agreed to put up $25 million each, up front, to fund the cleanup of PCB-contaminated sediments from Little Lake Butte des Morts, the state announced today.

Officials with the companies — Glatfelter, which has a Neenah plant, and WTM 1, formerly Wisconsin Tissue Mills in Menasha — have signed agreements with the state and federal justice departments making this the first cleanup liability settlement since formal planning for restoration of the lower Fox River began 12 years ago.

In addition, the companies will pay $3 million toward the Natural Resource Damage Assessment being conducted by the state Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Menominee and Oneida tribes. That money is to be earmarked for local fisheries and wildlife projects and public facilities that provide access to the Fox River, officials said.

The settlement means dredging barges will begin removing contamination from the lake —a six-mile widening of the Fox River — in 2004.

The cleanup will remove 92 percent of PCBs in the lake, officials said, and could be complete in four to six years.

“After years of debate and discussion, we will finally cleanup the dangerous toxic chemicals that have polluted the Fox River,” said Gov. Jim Doyle, previewing remarks he is scheduled to make today at a press conference Fritse Park in the Town of Menasha.

“To preserve this valuable resource for the future, we must repair the damage of 150 years of heavy wear and tear on the river and surrounding lands, and we must clean up the PCBs that have contaminated the river,” Doyle said.

The DNR will add $10 million to the effort — using part of the $40 million received from Appleton Papers and NCR — to bring the total cleanup fund for Little Lake Butte des Morts to $60 million.

In the Superfund-style Record of Decision for the lake, the DNR estimated it would cost $61.4 million to remove 784,000 cubic yards of sediment from the lake and dispose of them in a nearby landfill. Long-term monitoring is expected to cost another $4.5 million.

Bruce Baker, the DNR administrator overseeing the cleanup, said the two companies will perform the cleanup under government oversight. He said the companies are in a better position than the government to bring the project in under budget.

The settlement also contains a “re-opener” provision, Baker said, that requires the companies to complete the work should the fund be depleted.

Baker said it is difficult to understate the significance of the settlement, which comes just three months after state and federal regulators issued the second and final Record of Decision for the lower Fox River.

This should underscore the government’s commitment to the river, he said, and put to rest concerns that the cleanup will be endlessly delayed by negotiations with the paper companies.

EPA regional administrator Tom Skinner said today the settlement with the two companies will help set the pace for future settlements aimed at completing the cleanup of the 39-mile lower Fox River.

“It is a strong commitment by the mills,” Skinner said, “and it bodes well for additional agreements that address the rest of the contamination.”

DNR officials said the two companies believe they can complete the work for $60 million, plus whatever interest the accounts accrue, because of support they expect to receive from local municipalities.

The companies have held discussions with city of Neenah officials, for instance, regarding the use of undeveloped Arrowhead Park for shoreline treatment facilities.

Arrowhead Park — a land mass at the south end of Little Lake Butte des Morts that rose from the lake bed decades ago as a paper company landfill —would be restored after the cleanup and perhaps developed for public use, becoming a prime candidate for NRDA funds.

Area residents have already noticed work barges on the lake. Engineers hired by the companies are currently pulling core samples from the lake sediments using the $2 million previously dedicated to pre-cleanup engineering by WTM 1, a division of the Chesapeake Corporation that retains liability for the former Wisconsin Tissue Mills.

Advanced engineering this fall will speed the detailed design of the cleanup so that dredging can begin next summer, Baker said.

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