EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
While this private wellhead lies outside the Town of Peshtigo, it is also part of another site investigation currently underway by JCI/Tyco regarding 170 wells exposed to potential PFAS contamination. Thus far, according to Tyco, preliminary results show a majority of those well water samples tested with no PFAS detected.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard

While this private wellhead lies outside the Town of Peshtigo, it is also part of another site investigation currently underway by JCI/Tyco regarding 170 wells exposed to potential PFAS contamination. Thus far, according to Tyco, preliminary results show a majority of those well water samples tested with no PFAS detected.

MARINETTE— During its second round at the table, a proposed — and revised— reimbursement agreement between the City of Marinette and Tyco Fire Products LP, carried a majority of the discussion at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, which followed with a majority vote — save two council members — for approval. 

Earlier this year, in closed session, city council discussed the agreement, which concerns ongoing per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) issues and the provision of clean, safe drinking water for the Town of Peshtigo (TOP). Discussion on the agreement reemerged at Tuesday’s meeting. The long dialogue that followed aired some diverging opinions among council members.  

After years of toxic PFAS discharge from the testing of firefighting foams at the Tyco Fire Training Center (FTC) in Marinette, an expanding plume of PFAS-contaminated groundwater and surface water, centered on the FTC, leached into several TOP private drinking water wells and also contaminated biosolids in Marinette’s wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) storage tanks. Beginning in 2017, Tyco arranged to provide TOP residents with bottled water or home installation of carbon filtration systems to remove the PFAS. Tyco and town residents viewed both, the bottled water and the filtration systems, as interim solutions. Since that time, a tangle of various water supply options for TOP as well as indecision and lack of consensus about possible solutions for acquiring safe water continues to beleaguer the TOP residents, town board members, JCI/Tyco officials and the City of Marinette. 

Prior to the vote, council members Dorothy Kowalski and Rick Polzin were the two dissenting voices (and votes). They both drew attention to the single party absent from the discussion since the beginning: the Town of Peshtigo. 

“I just think we are a little premature on developing this agreement with Tyco,” Polzin said. “Since we had our (last) meeting, to my knowledge, nobody from the town of Peshtigo has contacted the City of Marinette about any of this stuff. And I just don’t feel it is right that the city goes and makes an agreement with Tyco and we don’t have the third party — the key party — the Town of Peshtigo residents (who) are going to be affected by this (agreement).” 

Stipulated in the agreement, Tyco (a subsidiary of Johnson Controls Inc.), must compensate the city $75,000 (up from the $50,000 stated in the original proposal) for “Professional Fees” accrued by the city as it examines the potential of expanding municipal water utility lines, and/or other options to provide TOP with clean water. In an effort to evaluate all potential solutions, the revised agreement eliminated a section that stated, “Tyco believes that the City of Marinette’s water supply system is the best choice for substantial long-term water supply ... “ for TOP residents. 

“We asked for additional (money) because we would have to hire a consulting firm to evaluate what options would be the right options,” emphasized Mayor Steve Genisot. “We didn’t want to have a one-option-only because, if a water district was even considered (and) not knowing where water mains are going, there might be parts of the town beyond that and there might be other options the town needs to consider.”

Genisot also pointed out additional complications such as the lack of discussion with TOP residents about their opinions concerning the potential creation of a new water district or annexation into Marinette if the city extends its waterlines. Genisot pointed out that those options could be evaluated at no cost to the city with the Tyco reimbursement agreement. It will allow Marinette to evaluate thoroughly, with no strings attached and at no cost, the feasibility and expenses involved in the extension of its water lines to TOP. According to Genisot, the city has already incurred some costs related to the TOP water supply issues. Those costs include a Madison-based environmental attorney hired by the city to address and advise on various aspects of the issue. 

Councilmember Ken Keller, who voted in favor of the agreement, pointed out the importance of continuing to work with Tyco on all possible solutions.  

“We’ve had a working relationship with Tyco and I believe we should try to maintain that and keep that continuity going,” Keller said. “I still believe we should continue to show good faith. It’s not costing us anything to do this … and this has been a drawn-out deal for quite a while.” 

In the interest of curbing a further prolonging of an already lengthy search for TOP water solutions, alderman Peter Noppenberg underscored another concern regarding the property values of TOP residents, many of whom he said expressed no interest in annexation into Marinette. 

“The reason why they bought property where they did was so they didn’t’ have to get involved with city infrastructure,” he pointed out. “The other thing that is coming to a boiling point here is the market value of their properties.”

Citing comments from a local realtor who attended one of the area’s many informational PFAS meetings, Noppenberg further explained that PFAS contamination of wells created a negative impact for property values, leaving a bad taste in the mouth for any prospective buyer of property in that area.

“They are going to get their water source from some source other than a well or their property values are going to go right down the tank,” he said. 

Several of the council members expressed varying levels of criticism for TOP’s delay in reaching a decision on addressing its water issues. At a special town hall meeting in February, TOP Town Board members abandoned a planned referendum seeking input from TOP residents on possible clean and safe water solution options, that might have been a positive step towards a solution. At the time, concerns that TOP residents and board members did not possess all the information they needed for a well-informed decision only reflected the indecision that continues to plague a clean water solution.  

“I think what (the City of Marinette) needs before we can go through the option is a formal request from the Town of Peshtigo,” Polzin said. “While I empathize with their problem in the Town of Peshtigo, they have to do their part. They have to come to us with a list of (specific questions) that we can evaluate … I don’t see any advantage in doing their homework for them and evaluating all these options. It’s their choice.” 

Despite opinions and criticisms against the agreement, city officials voted to adopt it.