CUBA CITY—The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has gotten involved in a probable groundwater contamination issue in Cuba City.
Reporting on initial findings from tests done at a downtown business on Main Street, two representatives from the DNR provided options to the Cuba City Common Council on May 7. They reported that monitoring wells drilled on the Kwik Trip property in Cuba City have determined groundwater contamination, likely from its upstream neighbor, which used to provide dry cleaning services.
The former Kessler Dry Cleaning, located between Kwik Trip and Mound City Bank on Main Street in Cuba City, is believed to be the source of groundwater contamination after monitoring wells drilled at the property line between the Kwik Trip and former dry cleaner properties reported groundwater contamination. The groundwater flows from north to south, meaning the contamination is coming from a property north of Kwik Trip.
The complications with the former dry cleaner property include an unknown owner, an unknown source of contamination and the unavailability to check the former dry cleaner building for contamination.
Taylor Gronau, Cuba City Economic Development Director, contacted the DNR to determine what the city’s options were to clean up the property and get it ready for redevelopment. The building has been vacant and for sale for some time. As it sits now, it needs quite a bit of work and could be harmful to inhabit because of dangerous vapors from a possible chemical contamination.
“We [the city] have contacted the existing building owner, who lives in Arizona, and she has no interest in doing an investigation,” Gronau said. “I have talked to Mound City Bank and others who may be interested in the property and they won’t touch it until the site investigation phase has been wrapped up so they know what type of cleanup needs to be done.”
At the meeting, Linda Hanefeld of the DNR said that whoever occupies the building is at risk for breathing in harmful vapors released from the contaminated groundwater. The building is currently for sale and whoever buys it would need to research removing the contamination before inhabiting the space. If a private owner takes over the property, there is no grant funding for an investigation into the problem, nor cleanup assistance. If a municipality such as Cuba City would handle the cleanup process, grant funding would be available from multiple sources to assist with the project; the liability associated with the project would be minimized for a municipality.
“If a municipality takes control of a contaminated property, they are eligible for an exemption from state contamination liability,” Hanefeld said. “People in our department can help the city work through this process if you decide to go that way.”
The limited liability exemption would stay with the municipality. If the property was sold to an individual, that person would be responsible for taking over the cleanup process. Hanefeld said the city could lease the property without losing the exemption.
The limited liability requires the municipality to do what is immediately necessary to limit the human health impact from the site. If the property were purchased by a private investor, the DNR would require a full investigation and cleanup of the property to improve health conditions.
The DNR is most concerned with a vapor contamination at the property.
“This contaminant volatilizes in the atmosphere,” Hanefeld said.
The contaminant is likely on top of the groundwater under the ground and it can vaporize because of the porous soil. The vapors can leave the soil and contaminate the air in homes above ground.
“As long as there’s a source of contamination, it can do this [release harmful vapors],” Hanefeld said.
Once the source of contamination is cleaned up, likely the issues downstream will disappear as well.
“Because the building takes up most of the footprint of the property, we really don’t know where the source of contamination is,” Hanefeld said.
The contamination could have reached the groundwater various ways: a floor drain, condensation of air vent pollution or filters soaked with petro chloroethylene left near the dumpster allowing chemicals to be absorbed into the soil.
Testing north of the property in question will determine if the contamination source is at that property or another.
“The advantage of the city taking over the cleanup process is that the city then has access to grants, not to mention the liability reduction, to do the investigation so we know what we need to do to market it to potential buyers,” Gronau said.
DNR grants are available to assist the clean-up process, although they are not available for the investigation of the problem. WEDC offers grants for the investigation as well as cleanup. The WEDC grants for investigation and cleanup require a 20 percent match. The city needs more information about the property before applying for the grants.
The whole process would include the city purchasing the property through a condemnation process. It was not recommended that the city accept the property as a gift.
Within three months, the whole investigation process could be completed, if everything happened quickly. Likely, it will take much longer.
“The property is in the name of the Simon Family Trust, and I think the only people in that trust were Ilene and Jerome Simon,” Hanefeld said. “They are both deceased and they were the only ones in the trust to be working with to move forward with on this property.”
The city would need to determine the legal owner of the property. It is believed the property was left to a trust, of which both parties involved in the trust are deceased.
“If indeed it does belong to Jerome and Ilene Simon, we [the DNR] have no one to sue; there is no one we can purse an enforcement action against,” Hanefeld said. “It will probably go no where.”
No funding is available for purchasing the property to condemn it.
“Really, the advantage of Cuba City being in the middle is to help fund the cleanup for a potential property owner,” Hanefeld said. “If you decide to go this route, we understand that it is a long process and we are willing to work with the city every step of the way.”