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Landfill clean-up parties consider buy-out options

Businesses and communities responsible for polluted groundwater near the old New Richmond landfill may hire a private firm to handle the environmental issue.

Dennis Horner, New Richmond city administrator, confirmed that those involved in the clean-up are considering a contract with Environmental Risk Services, Inc. to take over handling of the landfill and related concerns.

If approved, the contract would essentially allow the responsible parties to wash their hands of the whole mess.

"Then everybody's out of it," Horner said.

The landfill's remedial investigation outlining the scope of the problem was finished months ago, and consultant Short Elliot Hendrickson is now nearing completion of the feasibility study.

But before that study is submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the "responsible parties" who will pay for the clean-up are considering the new proposal.

Horner said such environmental risk contractors make their money by expecting to clean up landfills for less money than projections indicate.

"They look at all the materials that have been submitted to the DNR, and our estimates on how much it will cost," he said. "Their risk is that they feel they can do it cheaper."

The company then takes out an environmental insurance policy in case clean-up costs spiral out of control, he explained.

Environmental risk insurance is a highly specialized business, with only three companies nationwide willing to write such a policy.

Jim Lonsdorf, legal counsel for the responsible party group, said environmental risk facilitating companies such as ERS are a fairly new phenomenon.

"They will clean up the site and take all of the risk for 'X' number of years," he said. "It's a way for businesses and communities to basically wash their hands of the whole problem."

Lonsdorf said all responsible parties tied to the New Richmond landfill have to agree to a contract with an environmental risk company. Several businesses involved in the clean-up process are currently negotiating buy-out options with the municipalities to exit the process even sooner.

The list of identified responsible parties includes the city of New Richmond, WITC, New Richmond School District, St. Croix Press, Chiquita Processed Foods, Westfields Hospital, Nordson Corp. and the towns of Erin Prairie, Star Prairie, Richmond and Stanton.

Pat Collins, DNR project manager for the New Richmond landfill, said buy-out and environmental risk insurance are all options used by businesses and communities today.

Like any landfill clean-up, Collins said, the New Richmond responsible parties continue to struggle with who pays what.

"The allocation is always the biggest issue," he said. "How much is each party going to have to pay to get it done."

Responsible parties have conducted several meetings on the topic of buy-outs and other options during the past couple weeks.

A meeting of SPLASH (Star Prairie Township Landowners Asking for Safe H2O) and the responsible party group is set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 25, at the Star Prairie Township Hall. On the agenda is discussion of the environmental risk insurance and buy-out option.

The decision about whether or not to hire ERS has to be made prior to the submittal of the feasibility study to the DNR. The expected deadline for the report is in early June.

The study will reveal which options for cleaning up the landfill site and providing clean water to affected residents are most desirable.

The two water options getting the most attention at the moment are hooking up houses to the New Richmond city service, or establishing a new township water system.

Gerald Backes, one of 11 homeowners whose drinking water was tainted by contaminated groundwater, said he continues to patiently wait for a resolution to the issue. The contamination was uncovered in 1999 after the state completed landfill tests across the state.

The New Richmond landfill, which operated from 1977 to 1982, was located on a seven-acre plot northwest of New Richmond. The site is at the southeast corner of 115th Street and 195th Avenue.

Two harmful compounds were found in the nearby private wells that were tested: tetrachloroethylene and 1,1-dichloroethylene (both commonly used industrial solvents).