NCR to fund Fox River cleanup blueprint
By Peter Rebhahn
Green Bay Press Gazette
Two paper companies have agreed to do the design and engineering
work required to begin cleaning harmful PCBs from the
most polluted stretch of the Fox River.
"It’s nice to get over another hurdle," said
Greg Hill, Fox River cleanup implementation coordinator
for the state Department of Natural Resources.
The agreement between Georgia-Pacific Corp. and NCR Corp.
and the DNR and the federal Environmental Protection Agency
was announced Thursday. It is an important milepost in
decades-long cleanup talks, and signals that neither company
intends a legal challenge of the final cleanup contained
in two orders issued by the agencies last year.
Combined, the two orders directed seven responsible paper
companies to remove or render harmless an estimated 64,000
pounds of PCBs contained in 7.2 million cubic yards of
river sediment from Little Lake Butte des Morts, near
Menasha, to the bay of Green Bay at an estimated cost
of $400 million.
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are manufactured
chemicals once used in the production of carbonless paper.
Suspected of causing cancer, PCBs were banned by the federal
government in 1976.
The agreement allocates $6.5 million to pay for a study
needed to determine exactly how the job will be accomplished
in the portion of the cleanup downstream from Little Lake
Butte des Morts to the bay - a figure Hill said will probably
fall short of the full tab.
"We really don’t care what the price is," Hill
said. "They’ve signed up to do the design no matter
what the cost is."
The $6.5 million will come from a $40 million agreement
between NCR, the former Appleton Papers and the agencies
announced in 2001. Georgia-Pacific and NCR will pay costs
over the $6.5 million.
"We think the agreement is an excellent example
of what we can do when we cooperate with partners like
the EPA, DNR and NCR," said Mary Jo Malach, Green
Bay-based spokeswoman for Georgia-Pacific.
The agreement means that field work will begin this summer
on the river.
"We had hoped there was going to be a faster progression
through these stages," said Rebecca Katers, who directs
the Green Bay-based Clean Water Action Council of Northeast
Hill said the companies voluntarily approached regulators
about an agreement last October, a few weeks after the
agencies mailed a request for action to the companies
in the wake of release of the final cleanup orders.
The agencies and the companies have been in negotiations
ever since, Hill said. Katers expressed frustration with
the pace of the cleanup.
"They could have started this a long time ago,"
Katers said. "It just seems as though they’re not
treating this as the public health emergency that it really
"The agreement drew fire from the Sierra Club for
heavy use of the term "contingent remedies"
- a euphemism for capping contaminated sediments with
sand instead of removing them from the river.
"The order is dangerously watered down with the
discussions of capping, so-called ‘contingent remedies,’
that the agencies have already determined won’t protect
our communities," said Jennifer Feyerherm, a toxics
specialist for the Sierra Club’s Great Lakes Program.
The DNR and EPA have indicated they believe that removing
PCB-contaminated sediments is the best way to clean the
river, but have left the door open to some capping.
Hill said the agencies hope to have the design for a
cleanup of the river between Little Lake Butte des Morts
and the bay by the end of 2005. The agencies’ cleanup
timeline allotted two to three years for design and a
decade for the cleanup itself.
"By these companies stepping forward we have a lock
on meeting the first part of it - design in two to three
years," Hill said