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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Malke Working With USDA/FDA On PFAS Remediation Grants

Issue Date: March 24, 2021

Mayor Cathi Malke informed the City of Peshtigo Water and Sewer Committee at its meeting on Thursday, March 18 that she and Michelle Eis, Community Program Specialist, World Development, of the USDA have been working with the FDA on possible funding for $2.5 million worth of projects at the wastewater treatment plant that could lead to creating a financially feasible way for Peshtigo and perhaps other Wisconsin communities to dispose of PFAS contaminated bio solids.

Malke said the proposal could include construction of a bio-solids press to cut the cost of transporting the bio-solids to one of the two available furnaces for incineration of the PFAS contaminated material, or even construction of a furnace for permanent disposal of the sludge that can no longer be spread on farm fields. There are currently two and a half tons of PFAS contaminated sludge stored at the Peshtigo Wastewater treatment plant for which the only currently available disposal is extremely expensive.

Malke added that they had tried unsuccessfully two years ago to get funding for Peshtigo Wastewater Treatment Plant improvements.

Water and Sewer committee chair Tom Gryzwa asked if they were seeking a grant or loan, and Malke said both, partly a grant and the remainder as a loan.

Pubic Works Director George Cowell said the USDA mainly provides loans rather than grants, but they do both. He felt chances of funding being approved for Peshtigo this time around are greater because rates for wastewater disposal in Peshtigo are significantly higher than they were two years ago. A rate increase approved by Peshtigo City Council in November increased the bill for the average household from $76.58 to $114.29 per quarter, with industries and larger users facing a much higher price hike.

Gryzwa thanked Malke for her efforts on their behalf, and said funding through the Clean Water Program could be a big help also.

The only two companies on this continent that deal with disposal of PFAS contaminated sludge appear to be one in the state of Oregon and the other in Canada. The Peshtigo Wastewater Treatment facility had a quote of $878,970 to dispose of one million gallons of PFAS contaminated sludge per year, which is approximately the volume produced. There currently are approximately two and a half tons of contaminated sludge stored at the WWTP while the search continues for a financially feasible means of disposal.

In other action at Thursday's meeting, Consultant Taryn Nall gave very a brief update on replacement of the the river crossing for the main sewer line that is to deliver wastewater across the Peshtigo River to the wastewater treatment plant on the west side of the city south of the BPM Inc. paper mill property. He said said acquiring the needed deeds and/or easements for the project is still in the hands of the attorneys.

Nall distributed information on laws that cover situations where the city, or even private developers, run into contaminated soils while trying to carry out projects. He said that can stop a project in its tracks, because plans for remediation of the contamination issues must be in place before the project, public or private, can go forward. He added that there are ways of making the remediation easier on everyone.

In his monthly report, Cowell said two pumps had been replaced on Well No. 4, and they had used plastic PVC pipes to replace rotted metal pipes. While that well was shut down water for the city utility customers had come from Well No. 3, which has slight cloudiness due to the presence of minute air bubbles. He said anyone concerned with the cloudiness should just set the water aside and they will see that the cloudiness clears up quite quickly.

Due to Covid-19 concerns the state has not provided any in-person education for wastewater treatment plant operators in more than a year. Peshtigo's operators must meet some educational requirements by this time next year to maintain their licenses, which he said is a lot to be done in less than a year.

Cowell said he had expressed concerns to the DNR because he needs to get another employee certified and licensed as a wastewater treatment operator and they had not done any testing in over a year. He said getting another employee licensed is critical for a small plant like Peshtigo, because there is currently only one full licensed operator.

He is working on a vulnerability assessment that is now required by the Environmental Protection Agency. In the report they look at things that make the system vulnerable in case of emergencies, for example if there is an extended power outage. Peshtigo does have generators and procedures to keep the pumps running even if the power goes down.

On the sewer side of the utility, they have been doing a lot of cleaning with the new jet vac, and it is working well. They were able to catch lots of objects before they got to the lift stations where they could have caused clogging. He had called in a contractor to repair a major hole in one piece of pipe.

Cowell and Malke had spent two days seeking documents related to the River Crossing project, and then more time searching through grant documents to see if they contained information on property ownership or easements for the river crossing.

Gryzwa noted there are lots of things going on in the background on both the river crossing and the PFASA issues, "but noting that is ready for action yet."


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