MARINETTE — The Marinette Plan Commission on Wednesday re-zoned two lots from R-1 Single Family Residential Zoning to RM-2 Multiple-Family Residential Zoning districts in preparation for placement of a water treatment system to address contaminated surface water running through a ditch on the property. 

The Plan Commission previously approved an application Jan. 9 for a conditional use permit from Johnson Controls and Northland Lutheran Retirement Community to install a water extraction treatment system and a building to house it along a PFAS-contaminated surface ditch on Northland Lutheran’s property, in an RM-2 zoning district. But, as City Attorney Jonathan Sbar explained Wednesday, the conditional use permit was granted prior to knowing exact placement of the treatment unit. 

“When this was brought to our attention, the site selected was the Luther Home property. Our assumption was it was in the area... zoned RM-2,” he said. “The city took steps to alter its code to allow a privately-owned water extraction treatment system in an RM-2 zoning district.” 

Sbar said that when the city received preliminary plans for the treatment system, the final placement site turned out to be on Northland Lutheran lots zoned for R-1 use. 

“And so, really, to make everything fit together, those two lots should be re-zoned,” he said. 

“We need to do this step before we see a site plan,” said Mayor Steve Genisot. 

Jim Cox appeared on behalf of Johnson Controls along with Arcadis principal engineer Ben Verburg. Johnson Controls has partnered with Arcadis on the design of the filtration systems.

Commissioner Keith Killen asked if the treatment system could not simply be moved further north along the ditch and into the property already zoned RM-2. Verburg explained that this would put the system in Northland Lutheran’s parking lot, which would disrupt the retirement community’s traffic flow and operations. 

The Plan Commission voted 5 to 1 in favor of the zoning change, with Ward 3 Alderman Marx, Commissioner Jon Heraly, Public Works Director Brian Miller, Genisot and Killen in favor and Commissioner Tom Crowley against. Site plans for the water treatment system will likely be discussed at the next Plan Commission meeting. 

Tyco Fire Products, before its purchase by Johnson Controls, began using PFAS (poly-fluoroalkyl substances) in the 1970s for firefighting foams and sprays, with chemical testing and training at their local testing site. The chemicals used seeped into the groundwater, which the company discovered via water testing and announced in November 2017. Since then, Johnson Controls has been conducting an environmental assessment of its facilities and the surrounding areas in cooperation with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

A health advisory level (HAL) for PFAS of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) was set by the EPA in 2016 for drinking water. The decision was based on studies of the chemicals’ effects over time which led to adverse health effects such as developmental effects on fetuses during pregnancy and breastfed infants, including low birth weight, accelerated puberty and skeletal variations; cancer, particularly of the kidneys or testicular; tissue damage to the liver; changes in antibody production and the immune system; hormonal disruption; and other effects including cholesterol changes and a malfunctioning thyroid. However, many states have set their own standards when it comes to regulating PFAS. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, neighboring Michigan set its maximum groundwater contamination level at the EPA’s 70 ppt, while Vermont and New Hampshire adopted a drinking water limit of 20 ppt and New Jersey went even lower, at 14 ppt.

Johnson Controls is primarily focusing on the private wells in the Town of Peshtigo, where POET systems (point-of-entry water treatment systems) were offered for those with wells containing PFAS, whether below or above the HAL. In addition to monitoring the wells, Johnson Controls is engaged in a project to address PFAS levels in two local surface water ditches, “Ditch A” and “Ditch B.” Ditch A runs through the Tyco Fire Technology Center and follows a southeastern path toward the Town of Peshtigo. A granular-activated carbon treatment system for Ditch A, on Johnson Controls property, has already been installed, though no numbers about the system’s effectiveness at filtering out PFAS have been released yet. Ditch B crosses West Bay Shore Street and runs through Runnoe Park in the City of Marinette, including on Northland Lutheran’s property, and placement of the treatment system on the property has neighbors concerned. 

Johnson Controls is planning another public outreach event, tentatively set for Feb. 26. To follow the progress of Johnson Controls and its mitigation efforts, those interested may visit the DNR’s dedicated clean-up and redevelopment website for the company, dnr.wi.gov/botw/GetActivityDetail.do?detailSeqNo=580694, or Johnson Controls’ website dedicated to the investigation, marinette.tycofpp.com/.