A contamination cleanup residents in the Thomas Street neighborhood have been asking for over several years is finally underway.
City contractor REI earlier this month began the process of cleaning up soil contamination at Riverside Park. That contamination was left over from industrial pollutants that existed in and around the site. The park is north of Thomas Street; the area around the street is largely considered contaminated to some degree from the time that area of the city had been more heavily industrial.
Public Works Director Eric Lindman told City Pages contractors started by cutting down trees to make way for the soil cleanup, and hauled out logs, brush and sticks. Lindman says 370 tons of soil has been removed from the site and was hauled away to the Marathon County landfill. The remediation is contained to the southern area of the park, which otherwise will remained open.
The park has a lot of open grass area, an indoor and outdoor shelter, and a bike polo court toward the southern end near the excavation site. A sign near the work site warns of the potential for dangerous chemicals. A chemical smell could be detected in the air near the excavation, but whether or not it was related to the excavation or industrial use nearby is unknown. REI, the company performing the excavation, has been conducting air monitoring on the site, according to a note Lindman sent members of the city council.
City Council member Tom Kilian, who first brought the issue to the attention of city officials prior to his election, told City Pages the cleanup is a long time coming. “The soil excavation demonstrates the remarkable power of citizen perseverance,” Kilian says. “The dominos are falling in a historic way on the southwest side, and the next to fall will be remediation on the former Connor property and environmental assessments of Thomas Street parcels — the people will go three for three.”
Kilian had spoken at numerous city council meetings about the contamination, and conducted extensive research on the site’s history. He eventually formed Citizens for a Clean Wausau, a group advocating for environmental cleanup.
Kilian eventually ran for and won a city council seat in his district.