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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Peshtigo City Water May Be Option For Town PFAS Issues

Issue Date: June 13, 2019

The struggle continues on state and local levels to find ways of dealing with groundwater contamination issues in the Town of Peshtigo that resulted from fire retardant foam manufactured by Tyco Fire Protection Products that was used for decades at a firefighting training site in the City of Marinette.

Tyco favors providing affected Town of Peshtigo residents with water from the City of Marinette's Municipal water system, but Peshtigo Town Chair Herman Pottratz told the City of Peshtigo Water and Sewer (W&S) Committee on Tuesday, June 11 that he opposes that solution.

If the affected town residents must be connected to a municipal water utility Pottratz prefers that it would be the City of Peshtigo.

The subject also will likely be on the agenda for the Town of Peshtigo's regular monthly board meeting on Tuesday, June 18.

Stressing that he was speaking for himself and not necessarily as a spokesman for the full Town Board, Pottratz declared if town residents must go with a municipal water supply rather than their own wells, he would like that water to come from the City of Peshtigo. Peshtigo city water come from deep wells, while Marinette water is drawn from the Bay of Green Bay.

No formal request was made, and no action was taken, but W&S Chair Tom Gryzwa, members Fred Meintz and Dan Seymour appeared willing to discuss the possibilities.

Pottratz told the committee that Tyco has created a problem for the City of Marinette and the Town of Peshtigo, ""and now, without any input from us, they're pushing us to get water from the City of Marinette."

"This not what we want"at least, it's not what I want," Pottratz declared. He said instead of forcing residents to connect to any municipal water system Tyco could provide deep wells to supply uncontaminated water.

He said he and many town residents are opposed to the idea of getting water from the City of Marinette. He said the GreenBay water for Marinette's municipal system requires a lot of treatment before it is fit to drink, while Peshtigo's city water comes from deep wells and requires minimal treatment.

He understands Marinette would require properties served by its water utility to be annexed to the city.

"Also, the City of Peshtigo is located in the center of the town, and if there is need in future to extend water and/or sewer utility services to other parts of the town that would be the way to do it. We would be well served by working with the City of Peshtigo if we can't solve this in some other way," Pottratz repeated. "We'd rather work with the City of Peshtigo. We surround you. We have always had good working relations."

Pottratz noted that until the early 1900s the city and town were one, and it was logical that as the area grows, parts of what is now the town could become parts of the city.

"Is the final decision on where the water comes from up to the town or Tyco?" Gryzwa asked.

No one appeared certain of the answer.

"I'd like reassurance that you would work with us," Pottratz explained. "We like the system you have, and we surround you."

Gryzwa asked Pottratz if he was making a formal request, and Pottratz said he was not.

"This is just to start a conversation," Mayor Cathi Malke commented.

"It's good you came here with your thoughts," Meintz said, adding it was not like the City of Marinette, where the first anyone knew about that proposal was when they read it in the papers.

"Marinette is requiring annexation, and we might be able to work out a bulk sale agreement instead," Peshtigo Public Works Director George Cowell suggested.

Gryzwa agreed Peshtigo's city ordinances do not require annexation. He said in having Peshtigo City water lines in place might result in another plus for town residents. They would be able to install fire hydrants and town's insurance rates would go down.

"I'm here speaking on my own, not for the whole town board," Pottratz repeated before he left.

"This is preliminary and we're open to any concepts," Gryzwa assured him.

On a state level, on Thursday, May 30, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reportedly asked the state Department of Justice to look into possible civil charges against Johnson Controls International, parent company of Tyco, for failing to report the problem with PFAS (perfluorinated chemicals - PF) when they first learned of it in October of 2013. They say because of this, some residents were unknowingly drinking contaminated water for years.

Tyco officials contend they didn't believe until November of 2017 that the compounds had migrated outside the training and testing center in Marinette.

Since learning of the migration, Tyco and its parent company, Johnson Controls, tested 168 wells in the Town of Peshtigo and found 56 with some evidence of PFAS. They reportedly are currently providing bottled water to 125 Town of Peshtigo Residents, have installed water treatment systems on 38 properties, and are in the process of installing equipment in two ditches to remove PFAS compounds from surface and groundwater moving migrating toward the the Marinette shoreline and the waters of Green Bay.

In addition to the ground and surface water problems, the PFAS compounds, known as "forever chemicals" that do not break down, have contaminated solids left over from Marinette's wastewater treatment system that have been spread on farm fields for years. That practice is no longer taking place.

Sludge from the City of Peshtigo's wastewater treatment plant has also been spread on area farm fields. The city had its sludge tested and is still waiting for results. Tests of the three deep wells from which the city draws its water have been completed and show no contamination.

Meanwhile, Tyco/Johnson Controls is trying to speed the process of getting the affected areas in the Town of Peshtigo connected to the city of Marinette's water lines.

In a June 7 letter to Pottratz and town supervisors, Jim Cox, Senior Manager, Marketing Communications for Johnson Controls, asked the Peshtigo Town Board to hold a special meeting during the week on June 10 to expedite their plans for connecting to the Marinette city water supply. Pottratz said on Tuesday, June 11 that is not going to happen.

In the letter, Cox stated: "We are eager to quickly secure the necessary approval to survey the town roads, as it is an important step in developing the plans to achieve our goal of connecting residents in the Township of Peshtigo to a municipal water supply by the end of 2020.

"As you know, we will pay for the construction costs for this project. It is a long-term, safe, and reliable solution for all Peshtigo residents in the well sampling area. Digging more than 160 deeper wells does not make sense for a number of reasons, but principally because such wells do not guarantee a long-term source of clean drinking water for all affected residents.

"We have looked at a number of options thoroughly and it was critical to choose a solution that would be viable for all Peshtigo residents in the sampling area. It also had to be a long-term, cost neutral and sustainable solution for residents. We would not select a solution simply because it was the fastest, cheapest, or easiest for the company to implement. We have attached here a document that details the water solutions we have looked at, as well as provides additional explanation as to the benefits of connecting residents to a municipal water supply," Cox went on.

"We need your help in securing these right of way access agreements by June 17, 2019 to allow for our surveying crew to finalize the estimates for the water line. We know we need to continue to discuss the installation of the waterline with you, but we do need to closely examine exactly how construction would begin and where it would occur once we move forward," the letter went on.

"To that end, we would like to request that the Board of Supervisors hold an immediate special meeting the week of June 10th, 2019 to discuss this topic so we can work together to move the approval process forward. If you cannot hold an immediate special meeting, we would like to request that we participate in a discussion with you about this plan and necessary approvals at the next Board of Supervisors meeting on June 18, 2019.

"Any delays to obtain access to the easements will prevent us from moving swiftly towards our goal of ensuring residents have access to this long-term source of safe and reliable drinking water by the end of 2020," the letter concluded.

Attached information included summaries of the six proposed solutions Cox said they had evaluated before determining the best option for a long-term solution was expanding the water supply from the City of Marinette, and arguments in favor of municipal water over individual deep wells.

They were:

1. Installing Point of Entry Treatment (POET) systems at existing private wells: This is an excellent and effective short-term and intermediate-term solution that Tyco currently has in place for 38 wells. However, over the long-term, there are a number of reasons why this option does not work, including the need for a system permanently located in one's home and maintenance and monitoring of the POET system for the life of the well.

2. Drilling deeper (400 or 500 foot ) private individual wells: There are a number of reasons why this is not workable in this situation. The most important one is that we would need this to work for every affected property. This would require more than 160 wells to be installed, and the quantity and quality of that water may not be adequate or acceptable for all those wells. Even if this worked for some residents, it may not for others, which makes this option infeasible.

3. Creating and operating a public water system in the Town of Peshtigo. This would include identification and development of a water source; designing, permitting and building a water distribution system; operating and maintaining a water system; sending and collecting water bills; and more. This would create a significant burden on the Town to own, operate, manage and maintain a water system and therefore is not a feasible option in this circumstance.

4. Buying water from another municipality (likely the City of Marinette). The town would then have to put in place the infrastructure and distribution methods to get the water to residents. Like option 3, this would create a significant burden on the Town to own, operate, manage and maintain a water system and therefore is not a feasible option in this circumstance.

5. A combination of different water supply methods. This includes the above options along with deep wells and POET systems. This option is the least desirable and feasible in our case, and is primarily used when there is no single viable option that can address all of the affected properties. As in options 3 and 4, this would create a significant burden on the Town to own, operate, manage and maintain a water system and therefore is not a feasible option in this circumstance; and

6. Connecting Peshtigo residents to Marinette's existing water system: This option best meets every criteria in our situation. It would allow for a reliable and monitored long-term source of water for the residents in the sampling area. It is a solution used elsewhere and would take a relatively short amount of time (two years) to implement.

Another attachment states there are many reasons why connecting homes to the Marinette water system would be better for the community than a deep well solution, including:

*Municipal water is tested/treated as needed for naturally occurring water quality parameters, such as iron, hardness, radium, sulfate) and regulated in accordance with water quality standards. Individual deep wells are not.

*Owners of deep wells have the inconvenience of operating and maintaining the well, the pump, and in some cases, water treatment systems. For municipal water, the municipal water utility is responsible for treatment system operation and maintenance.

*Documentation from existing deep wells in the general area indicates water quality is questionable with varying levels of iron, radium, sulfate, dissolved solids, and other materials in the deeper aquifer.

*Depending on the location and the depth of the well, there may not be enough water available. Even where sufficient quantity exists currently, over time with increased use, the aquifer may yield less water, resulting in some deep wells running dry. The municipal water utility's supply of water is essentially unlimited.

*A deep well would be required to be continuously monitored, which is inefficient, time consuming and will require continued property access.

*Marinette Water Utility is already an approved supplier of municipal drinking water. However, the process for approval of deep wells would be required by state and local agencies.

*The annual cost is essentially the same for municipal water vs. deep well/treatment. The average annual cost of municipal water for a typical property owner is approximately $290 a year versus the cost to operate, maintain and eventually replace the deep well system and water treatment systems which ranges from $100 a year to $600 a year.

*Time to implement deep well and municipal water is essentially the same, with either having the ability to be activated before the end of 2020; and

*Tyco will pay the higher capital costs to install municipal water to provide a safe and reliable long-term drinking water supply, instead of the lower capital costs for installing deep wells to replace the impacted wells.

In a letter sent to town residents on Friday, June 7, Cox had advised that their new website, www.tycomarinette.com., was designed to provide more detailed information and make it easier to find information and updates. "It is our goal to regularly update the site so you have the most recent details about our work," he wrote.

He followed with a review of progress "". on the work we are doing to ensure clean drinking water for the residents in the Township of Peshtigo.

He said construction has to install the water treatment system at "Ditch B," which is near the Lutheran Retirement Community, has begun. It is on track to be fully operational by mid-August. "Ditch A," which is at our Fire Technology Center property, has now treated 11 million gallons of water.

He noted that in May, they had shared a letter with Peshtigo Township residents in the affected area that detailed the six different options we have evaluated to provide for a long-term, sustainable supply of drinking water. Additionally, he wrote, "" the EagleHerald and Peshtigo Times published letters from Tyco providing more details on these options and why we believe connecting residents to a municipal water line is the best long-term solution. You can read both the letter to residents and the letters to the editor here: www.tycomarinette.com/all-communications."

The letter continued with a thank you to residents "for your continued patience as we work to re-sample drinking water wells and conduct routine testing of Point of Entry Treatment systems (POETs) in the sampling area. To date, 171 drinking water wells have been sampled, and we plan to share results with you individually when we receive them in July. We understand that this is an inconvenience to you, and appreciate your cooperation."

Referring to new proposals by elected officials regarding how firefighting foam is used, Cox wrote: "Firefighting foam saves lives and property, and we support legislation that allows firefighters to continue to use these foams to fight live fires. We also support legislation that prevents the use of foam during training exercises and we offer training foams that do not contain PFAS compounds for such exercises. Finally, we support efforts to fully fund robust scientific research into PFAS compounds."

Cox noted Tyco/Johnson controls has kicked off training for first responders from across the country at the ANSUL Fire School, and concluded, "We do not use foams in these fire extinguisher training programs. We also want to remind you that we have suspended and will continue to suspend outdoor training or testing with any PFAS-containing foam products".

As always, you can reach us at 800-314-1381 or 715-582-7100 with any comments or questions."

 Johnson Controls' Tyco Fire Products for years has used the PFAS chemicals in the manufacture of fire retardants. The chemicals help spread fire retardant foams and been effective in petroleum fires, such as at airports and military installations.

The compounds were also used widely because of non-stick properties that make pans easy to clean (remember Teflon cookware?) and allow carpets to withstand stains.

PFAS chemicals have come under growing scrutiny in Wisconsin and nationally as more studies show they pose a risk to human health.

Studies cited in a federal report last year suggested that the compounds can lead to increased risk of pregnancy-induced hypertension, liver damage, thyroid disease, asthma, decreased fertility, some cancers and a drop in responses to vaccines. 


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