EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Ruth Kowalski, (center) speaks with her husband John Kowalski at the Town of Peshtigo Citizens Advisory Committee meeting Monday at the Stephenson Public Library in Marinette. At the meeting, members discussed various topics including the their opposition to annexation into the City of Marinette should the city extend its water utility lines to the town.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard

Ruth Kowalski, (center) speaks with her husband John Kowalski at the Town of Peshtigo Citizens Advisory Committee meeting Monday at the Stephenson Public Library in Marinette. At the meeting, members discussed various topics including the their opposition to annexation into the City of Marinette should the city extend its water utility lines to the town.

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MARINETTE — In confronting the ongoing contamination crisis of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in groundwater and private wells located within the Town of Peshtigo,  the Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) for the town sent an Oct. 29  letter to Marinette Mayor Steve Genisot and its entire city council. The letter pertains to issues of annexation should the Town of Peshtigo receive water via an extension of water and wastewater utility lines from Marinette. 

However, annexation requires various technical, legal and governing obstacles, and according to the CAC, many people living within the PFAS plume zone, as well as officials at the state level, feel that annexation should not be a prerequisite to clean, safe drinking water. 

In the letter to Marinette, CAC member and Town of Peshtigo resident Jeff Lamont formally requested, on behalf of the CAC, the city’s position on annexation of areas within the Town of Peshtigo dealing with PFAS contamination. Lamont holds 28 years of experience dealing with investigation of contaminated sites as a retired Senior Project manager for one of the world’s largest environmental firms.

“We acknowledge that Senator Dave Hansen and Representative John Nygren have requested, both in writing and in person, that due to the unique and extreme circumstances thrust upon the (Town of Peshtigo) residents, exception to annexation be considered,” stated the letter. “ … And (we) would like to request the city’s formal position (regarding annexation).”  

“We have been asking for this for months,” Lamont added during an interview with the EagleHerald. “But the City of Marinette has not publicly come out and made a comment … and we can’t really move forward without knowing their position.”

The CAC represents a PFAS advisory body sanctioned by the Town of Peshtigo board. The initial PFAS crisis began in November of 2017 after Tyco Fire Product LP and its parent company Johnson Control Inc. notified the city, the town and residents of seepage of the chemicals into the groundwater surrounding Tyco’s fire technology center in Marinette. The contamination came after years of testing PFAS-containing firefighting foams at that facility.

Since that revelation, Tyco continues to provide bottled drinking water and point of entry (POET) carbon filtration systems to those homes affected. However, the company continues to emphasize that it seeks a more permanent solution. In March, Tyco and JCI officials proposed the option to extend the City of Marinette’s municipal water and wastewater lines to affected areas. They also offered to finance construction of that system, aiming for a potential completion by 2020.

“Our highest priority is to ensure that the community has a long term sustainable source of drinking water,” said JCI Vice President, Environment, Health, & Safety John Perkins. “The preferred option going forward is to have water coming from the City of Marinette (to the Town of Peshtigo).”

ARGUMENT AGAINST ANNEXATION

However, the process of extending a city’s water and wastewater infrastructure to a location lying outside its legal boarders entails complicated legalities. Such an operation involves various property laws, regulatory hurdles and probable taxes increases; not to mention the costs related to maintaining such a system once built. The questions that arise make potential annexation a much more multifaceted concept for all concerned parties. 

According to canvasing surveys conducted by the CAC members, most residents within the contaminated zone reported that they would be against annexation if water utility lines were extended from Marinette to the town. Approximately 90% of those asked said no to annexation while the most of the remaining 10% stated they were unsure and required more information.

“One of the biggest impacts (to annexation) is property taxes,” said Lamont. “My taxes would more than double. And when you start looking at people who are on fixed incomes, (such a increase) might require them to move out of their homes.”

According to State Sen. Dave Hansen’s (D-Green Bay) office, a meeting requested by Hansen and State Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), on behalf of Town of Peshtigo residents, occurred with City of Marinette officials to determine the city’s stance regarding annexation and water utility extension.  

According to Hansen’s Chief of Staff Jay Wadd, the City of Marinette currently feels annexation is a prerequisite to connecting the Town of Peshtigo to the Marinette’s water utility lines. However, the City of Marinette could not be reach for confirmation. 

At the same time, Wadd steered away from criticizing the city for that stance. He said, perhaps Tyco and JCI should bear the responsibility for ongoing costs the utility system once installed.

“Instead of (focusing on) annexation, the city and the state should be looking at JCI and Tyco for the accountability of these costs,” Wadd said. 

According to Wadd, Hansen’s office feels that the PFAS issue represents an ongoing and significant crisis to town residents and one for which those residents are not responsible. 

“The more productive route is for the City of Marinette to get to the table with JCI and tell them that this is what we need to get this done,” Wadd said. “We don’t want our residents and taxpayers footing the bill for the long term costs associated with this (solution).”

While city, state and Tyco/JCI officials continue hammering out details for a potential water utility extension, the ultimate result becomes further delays as noted by Tyco’s Senior Manager, Marketing Communications Jim Cox in his Sept.27 letter to residents in the Town of Peshtigo:

“… Unless local authorities make some decisions soon on how to proceed, the water will not be flowing until at least 2021 and maybe later. Construction takes time and if we’re going to have a waterline built by the end of next year, we’ll need decisions this autumn so ground can be broken once the spring thaw occurs.”

The letter can be found on the tycomarinette.com website.