cleanup decision expected by years end
Regulators say they plan to release a cleanup decision for
at least part of the Fox River by years end, despite
pressure from some affected paper companies for a delay.
A spokesman for Arjo Wiggins Appleton, the former owner
of Appleton Papers, said the company has proposed a $400
million-plus settlement for the cleanup that will be pulled
off the table if a Record of Decision is released.
The Record of Decision is a formal document under federal
Superfund law. It is the governments final decision
on a cleanup plan for the PCB-contaminated Fox River,
crafted in this case by the Wisconsin Department of Natural
Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Backed by state and federal justice departments, it carries
the force of law and cannot be appealed or negotiated.
It could be fought in court, however, which Arjo Wiggins
spokesman Craig Peterson said would be likely.
would no longer have a cooperative environment,
Peterson said. There is a high likelihood that litigation
Greg Baker, the DNR administrator heading the cleanup
effort, said the $400 million offer is not as strong as
it sounds. The costs would be spread out over a 10-year
period, he said, and it doesnt resolve different
cleanup strategies proposed by the government and the
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, have been linked to
developmental problems in children and are considered
a probable carcinogen. Until their use was banned in the
United States in 1976, PCBs were used in the Fox Valley
by NCR and Appleton Papers in the production of carbonless
paper. They also were discharged by mills that recycled
The DNR and EPA have proposed removing the majority of
contaminated sediments from a 39-mile stretch of river
in the largest environmental dredging project ever proposed
anywhere. The PCBs in the river are leaching their way
into the food chain, scientists say, contaminating fish
and the people who eat them.
The paper companies, with Appleton Papers former
owner Arjo Wiggins now in the lead, have proposed capping
the sediments in place under layers of clean sand, arguing
its the fastest and most cost-effective way to remove
PCBs from the food chain.
Baker said the release of a formal cleanup plan
even a partial one will give regulators their first
chance to respond officially to the paper companies, environmental
groups and the thousands of people who wrote the agencies
during the public comment period on a draft released last
have been silent because the (public comment) process
doesnt allow us to discuss the comments before we
issue a Record of Decision, Baker said. One
of the benefits of issuing a ROD is that we can include
a formal response to some of these capping issues.
Government regulators said they dont see release
of their plan as the end of talks.
Once the cleanup decision is issued, the government negotiates
with the paper companies on who will conduct the engineering
and who will hire the contractors.
we can get a ROD issued
well be in a much
better position to negotiate a settlement, Baker
Moreover, Baker said, the issuance of even a partial plan
would allow detailed engineering work to begin next summer.
It also would keep alive the possibility of beginning
the actual cleanup the following year.
very focused on trying to get into the river in 2004,
The Record of Decision comes after more than 15 years
of studies and a 4½year Superfund-style process
of feasibility studies, proposed plans and public comment.
Ed Lynch of the DNR, in charge of feasibility studies,
said the formal cleanup plan will cover portions of the
Fox River, which has been divided into four segments for
planning purposes. It will not cover the bay of Green
Bay, he said.
DNR officials are not commenting on reports that their
formal plan will be for two upstream stretches, including
Little Lake Butte des Morts and the long stretch running
from Appleton to the Little Rapids lock east of Kaukauna.
Any portion of the cleanup area not covered with this
decision will be covered in a plan issued next year, said
Jennifer Feyerherm, a sediments specialist with the Sierra
Clubs Great Lakes program, said Friday that more
than 1,200 people from Wisconsin have written the DNR
and EPA pleading with the agencies not to segment their
Most of the pollution is downstream, she said.
want them to give us a decision for the whole river,
Feyerherm said, and not to leave 90 percent of the
contaminants to languish while they leave whole communities
Baker said the agencies would speak to those concerns
with their plan.
In the meantime, the Arjo Wiggins offer was a work in
progress. Peterson said some of the other companies were
involved in the discussions. He said Arjo Wiggins executives
and others argue that a negotiated settlement should be
part of the agencies final plan.
believed there was the opportunity for greater participation
by the other companies, he said. The issuance
of a ROD makes the opportunity for a cooperative, global
remedy much more difficult. What we dont want is
to go the traditional Superfund route where it is a pay-as-you-go
process with no one knowing what the final cost will be.
The paper companies responsible for paying for the cleanup
are Appleton Papers and Arjo Wiggins Appleton, NCR, P.H.
Glatfelter Co., Georgia Pacific (formerly Fort James),
WTM1 (formerly Wisconsin Tissue), Riverside Paper Co.,
and U.S. Paper Co., the DNR and EPA said.
When Arjo Wiggins sold Appleton Papers to the employees
of the Appleton plant in 2001, it retained most of the
liability for PCB pollution.
The liability of the employee-owners is capped at $25
million, said Dennis Hultgren of Appleton Papers.
Superfund law makes it extremely difficult for a company
charged with cleanup costs to challenge the Record of
Decision, and it provides for severe penalties for non-compliance.
got hammers out there, Hultgren said. There
is not a whole lot of leeway once the ROD comes out.
Both EPA and DNR officials said there has been no interference
in the process from Bush administration officials or the
governors office. One wild card is the upcoming
change of administrations in Madison, with Democrat Jim
Doyle becoming Wisconsins governor on Jan. 6 after
16 years of Republican leadership.
Baker said Doyle is familiar with the Fox River cleanup
because he was Wisconsins attorney general in 1997
when the Justice Department signed off on an agreement
between the DNR and the paper companies on river studies
and demonstration dredging projects.
is not a new issue for him, Baker said, which
is one of the advantages we have.