Riverside showdown

(First published in the September 5, 2019 issue of City Pages)

Wausau again delays contamination testing at Riverside Park, caught in a tug of war between a citizens group and city staff


Tom Kilian, leader of Citizens for a Clean Wausau, talks Tuesday about a plan to test Riverside Park.

A Wausau city committee again considered, and then tabled, testing for contamination in Riverside Park, amid renewed criticism from a citizens group pushing for an environmental cleanup of the area. That state of limbo is causing staff and committee members wondering what exactly they’re supposed to do.

On Tuesday, the Wausau Parks and Recreation Committee tabled until October a plan that would have tested six sites in Riverside Park, which is believed contaminated primarily because of its proximity to industrial sites. The plan, presented by Ken Lassa of REI, called for borings to test soil at the surface and at depths, and to test for vapors and groundwater.

Alderman Tom Neal tabled the proposal amid criticism from Tom Kilian, leader of the Citizens for a Clean Wausau (CCW), that three of the testing sites were poorly placed. Kilian and others questioned the need for testing at depth and the groundwater, since the primary issue is the safety of users of the park.

But some committee members and staff are growing impatient with the group and its efforts, saying CCW spends more time criticizing than helping. In July, the group was asked to provide specific sites they want tested, says Wausau Parks Director Jamie Polley. “You were asked at the meeting where you wanted those samples to be,” Polley says. “You didn’t do that — and now you’re criticizing the presentation put together by REI based on their professional opinion.”

Alderman David Nutting echoed those sentiments, saying the main concern is to do the right thing. “I don’t know if it’s possible to make this group happy.”

City Public Works Director Eric Lindman and Mayor Robert Mielke urged the city to wait on testing until Wauleco, the entity created on behalf of SNE and Sentry Insurance to deal with its environmental contamination, conducts its own testing. Those are on an adjacent site, but one of the tests will be conducted in Riverside Park. “The money involved in this… I don’t have it,” Mielke said Tuesday.

The testing is expected to cost roughly $32,000, but will likely be less since the committee next month will only be considering surface soil testing. Eliminating the groundwater testing alone should lower costs by more than $6,000.

Kilian says the citizen group will provide a detailed plan of where the city should test by Friday, but says he had provided areas for testing upon request in July. He says waiting for Wauleco isn’t good enough.

“If someone dropped pizza somewhere in this room and we wanted to find out where, would one test for pizza sauce be a thorough investigation?” Kilian asked. “Obviously not.”