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Great Lakes Article:

Door County ponders PCB pact

Board wants to explore its financial options

By Paul Brinkmann
Press-Gazette Door County bureau

STURGEON BAY — Now that millions of dollars are materializing to address the PCB pollution problem in local waters, Door County officials are interested in their share of the pie.

“It appears we are the left-out stepsister here, so to speak,” County Board member Charlie Jarman said Wednesday in a meeting of the Land Conservation Committee.

The committee agreed that Door County should seek more detailed information about how the state arrived at its recent $16.1 million settlement with Georgia-Pacific Corp. and how the money will address damages to the area’s environment and fishing and tourism industries. It also considered drafting a resolution calling for a public hearing on the settlement.

Some parts of the settlement address water quality in the bay of Green Bay that borders Door County’s western shore. But most of it would go toward recreation facilities in Brown County, where the Fox River’s paper mills were once a major source of PCBs that now contaminate the bay and all of Lake Michigan.

Committee member John Neinas of Brussels said he thinks Door County should seek any money it can get, but he believes the state and paper companies involved in the settlement will be reluctant to open a door to claims by hundreds of local governments that border affected waters.

Committee Chairman Roger Kuhns of Egg Harbor said he may draft a resolution calling for Door County to be included in future discussions about the settlement, but the committee took no formal action Wednesday. County staff members agreed to meet with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on possible Door County projects.

Door County’s officials met partly at the urging of Rebecca Katers, executive director of the Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin. George Boronow, the DNR’s lower Fox River Basin supervisor, also attended the meeting at the invitation of the committee.

“Door County gets very little of this, and the total money is not enough,” Katers told the committee.

Boronow said, “I think Door County is benefiting, but I certainly think they could benefit more in the future.”

The settlement was announced by the DNR on June 20 for PCB-related natural resource damages to the Fox River and bay of Green Bay. The settlement is currently in a public comment period. After that, a federal judge must approve the settlement.

A final restoration plan will be released soon, Boronow said. He said later settlements could widen the scope of areas that benefit.

Proposed projects currently include $8.5 million for parks, boat launches and other recreational projects along the Fox River in Brown County, and for restoring fish and wildlife habitat in the river and in the bay of Green Bay. Also included is another $6 million to buy 1,063 acres along the Peshtigo River and northwest shore of Green Bay.

Jerry Viste, executive director of Door County Environmental Council Inc., suggested an escrow fund to help pay for future PCB cleanups as the substance continues to move and flow through the bottoms of Green Bay and Lake Michigan.

Dredging in small harbors and marinas could become very expensive if the sediment is contaminated, he said.

“What will happen in 50 years if these paper companies are absolved of liability? Who will pay for problems we encounter later, if the cleanup is not final?” Viste said.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were released into the river by seven area paper mills in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. They have been implicated in a wide range of health problems in humans and wildlife. Particularly hard hit has been commercial and sport fishing industries because PCBs build up in fish.

Katers has said the settlement is too small, and cited a Fish and Wildlife study released in 2000 that pegged damage claims at $176 million to $333 million, depending on the efficacy of final PCB cleanup.

Georgia-Pacific’s share of the larger number would be about $73 million, Katers said, adding that the settlement was crafted to placate local officials in the only densely populated area of Northeastern Wisconsin at the expense of areas like Door County, which could also lay claim to natural resource damages.

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