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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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No Shut-Offs For Peshtigo Water/Sewer Bills Until April

Issue Date: January 13, 2021

At a brief meeting of the City of Peshtigo's Water and Sewer Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 12, Chair Tom Gryzwa reported that communications have gone out to residents that starting on April 16 the utility will be going back to its regular policy for disconnections due to unpaid bills.

He said due to Covid-19 rules, since mid-July they could not disconnect service or impose penalties for unpaid bills. Outstanding balances as of Oct. 1 will be posted on bills going out now, he said.

The committee, which includes Fred Meintz and Dan Seymour in addition to Gryzwa, was advised that bills of 85 customers are in arrears and 66 of them are eligible for payment arrangements.

Reports on the new rates that went into effect on Jan. 1 were sent to the Public Service Commission and memos with the same information were inserted in Water and Sewer bills mailed to customers this month.

Dealing with PFAS content in wastewater treatment plant sludge remains a large concern. So far, efforts to get the DNR to set limits for field spreading have been unsuccessful. With no way to economically dispose of PFAS-contaminated sludge, the material continues to be stored at the wastewater treatment plant, but the wheels are in motion for disposal of at least a portion of it. The rate increase approved by Peshtigo City Council last month was imposed to cover the high disposal costs. Only two firms on the continent have been located that will handle it, one in Canada and one in Oregon.

To questions from Gryzwa, Public Works Director George Cowell said he has heard nothing from the DNR in regard to the PFAS regulations, although it has been three months since they had met with them in Peshtigo. He also said he has not heard from State Rep. John Nygren on that issue, but added, "...that does not mean that it's dead in the water." He cited problems with state employees working from home, and said he would get out another e-mail urging some assistance on that issue.

Cowell said the wastewater treatment plant is keeping the sludge with higher known PFAS content separate from that generated recently with at least one possible source removed.

Meanwhile, he suggested they may want to start a dialog soon with the companies that dispose of the sludge. He felt they could consider a two-tiered approach, and seek offers for hauling the initial million gallons as a one-time contract, and also an option for continuing service for at least the remaining two million accumulated gallons to gain economies of scale.

The river crossing for the main sewer line to the wastewater treatment plant continues to be an ongoing issue. Cowell said nothing has changed and they are still negotiating for easements for that work. There have been negotiations with BPM, Inc. regarding easements for the crossing, and BPM General Manager Jim Koronkiewicz was present for the meeting, but only as an observer.

On the water side of the utility, Cowell said one of the three wells that supply water for the city has been compromised with leaks and is temporarily shut down for possible reinforcement of lines.

With Covid restrictions the department has not been doing meter replacements and are falling behind. Cowell is waiting to see how the vaccines work out to decide when they should resume. At one point in the conversations he expressed hope things will be back to normal by fall.

Meanwhile, Cowell reported they have a third person working in the lab, and the state is starting to offer some classes via Zoom so they can begin training another wastewater treatment operator.

He commented the weather has been mild and his departments are fully staffed for the first time in a long while, so things are going well.

Gryzwa commented that 2021 appeared to be off to a good start. The next meeting is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 23.

Peshtigo resident and business owner Katie Berman had observed the entire meeting, and before adjourning, Gryzwa asked if she wanted to address he committee. Berman had prepared a written list of questions for the committee, and said she would like answers, "but you don't need to answer now." She said some of the questions were passed along to her in conversations with customers at her beauty shop.

She noted BPM is preparing to start using its own on-site wastewater disposal facility in October, and she understood that their engineering reports say without the warm water generated by the paper mill the city sewer line to the wastewater treatment plant would possibly freeze up. "Have you done a study for yourself, or do you believe this to be true?" she asked, and commented, "Next winter will be here in the blink of an eye!"

That question was answered by Cowell before the meeting adjourned. He said he does not see heat in the ground or in the wastewater stream as an issue because the pipes are buried deep, and added that with the reduction in amount of wastewater they might be able to eliminate operation of one clarifier. He said they may occasionally lift some "scum guard" covers, but they need to do that now in extreme cold weather.

Berman asked if they have figured out if and when the next rate increase will take effect, how much it will be and if it must go to the Public Service Commission for approval before going into effect, or if City Council can just approve it.

The answer to that was that the Public Service Commission must approve water rate increases. Sewer rates are set by the city alone, but increases must go through the public hearing process before they can go into effect.

Berman noted the Town of Peshtigo will be receiving $17 million from TYCO/Johnson Controls for the PFAS contamination there, and asked if the city would consider sending that company a letter or bill stating that they need to aid the municipality in storing their abandoned chemicals, and/or asking if they will take ownership for their barrels of chemically laden sludge.

She also asked to be provided with names and numbers of DNR representatives and state legislators so people of the community can contact them via e-mail or messaging boards "with comments to let them know we are very concerned about this issue.

Also, she asked if they could apply for state subsidies or aid to help pay for the sludge storage costs since the DNR and the state refuse to give the city the urgent guidance needed on safe levels of PFAS in the sludge, and if the EPA has a set of standards in other states.

Finally, she asked if the Town of Peshtigo settlement with Johnson Controls would have any bearing on the city. "As they are now taking responsibility in a monetary form, will they take further responsibility on the chemical knowingly dumped in or sewers?"

Gryzwa said the other questions would be held for now, and assured Berman, "We will communicate with you at our meetings." Cowell noted that so far the EPA has set no standards for PFAS.

After the meeting, Meintz expressed concern that very often people confuse the Town of Peshtigo with the City of Peshtigo, and said their problems with PFAS are entirely different. In the Town of Peshtigo, some groundwater is contaminated and therefore some wells are not to be used. There has been no effect on the city's three wells, which are very deep and not in the PFAS contamination area. The problem for the city is contaminated sludge from wastewater that may have been temporarily affected by Johnson Controls operations in a rented building in Peshtigo. The main TYCO/Johnson Control manufacturing and testing facilities in this area are in the City of Marinette, and they have been cited as the cause of water contamination issues in the Town of Peshtigo.


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