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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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City Hires Environmental Law Firm For Water, Sewer Issues

Issue Date: February 3, 2021

After conferring for nearly an hour in closed executive session on Tuesday, Feb. 2, Peshtigo City Council returned to open session and voted unanimously to hire Davis/Kuelthau, a Milwaukee and Green Bay based firm of attorneys who specialize in municipal and environmental law, to represent the city on water and sewer issues.

The city's Water and Sewer Utility has been embroiled in a legal dispute with BPM, Inc. over easements for access across paper mill property for a new main sewer line crossing over the Peshtigo River, and faces huge expenses resulting from PFAS contamination of sewage that entered the city's wastewater treatment plant. Much of that contamination is believed to have come from activities of Tyco/JCI while they were renting a building in Peshtigo, and has left the utility facing huge costs to transport contaminated sludge to either Canada or Oregon for disposal at one of the few facilities on this continent that can handle it.

At its January meeting, Peshtigo City Council approved a sewer rate hike to cover the high costs of disposal for just one million of the approximately 3 million gallons of contaminated sludge being stored at the wastewater treatment plant since the contamination was discovered.

To make resolution even more difficult, neither the Federal EPA nor the Wisconsin DNR have set rules governing levels of PFAS that would be environmentally acceptable for far less costly land-spreading of the sludge as fertilizer on local fields as had been done prior to the PFAS issues.

All Council members were present for the 6 p.m. closed session in addition to Mayor Cathi Malke, City Attorney David Spangenberg, Public Works Director George Cowell, and Water and Sewer Utility Committee member Dan Seymour and Chair Tom Gryzwa.

They conferred with representatives of the Davis/Kuelthau law firm via video conferencing. Davis/Kuelthau attorneys who will be on the Peshtigo water/sewer team are Ted A.Warpinski of Green Bay, and Christopher Jaekels and Elizabeth K. Miles, both of Milwaukee.

In a conversation after the meeting Spangenberg said environmental laws are too specialized and complicated to be handled by a general practice attorney.

Gryzwa, who chairs the Water and Sewer Utility Committee, said Spangenberg has done a tremendous job for them so far. Spangenberg compared setting him against attorneys who specialize in environmental law to pitting David against Goliath.

He added that there are only a handful of environmental law specialists in Wisconsin, and several of them have conflicts of interest because they have previously done work for JCI. He noted that the City of Marinette and Town of Peshtigo have each hired their own specialist law firms to deal with their PFAS issues.

Warpinski and other Davis/Kuelthau attorneys have previously represented the City of Peshtigo on environmental matters, Spangenberg said, and noted that the three attorneys who now will be handling water and sewer issues for Peshtigo were heavily involved in the Fox River Valley PCB cleanup.


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