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The La Crosse officials hope to use existing data convince the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that the city doesn’t need to spend millions to mitigate lead contamination in the La Crosse River Marsh.

A city of La Crosse board agreed to move forward with a remedial action options report — to be developed by John Storlie of Coulee Environmental Solutions, a division of The OS Group — which would address lead and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAH, found in the marsh. The $56,000 will pay for a 3D model and conceptual site model, created using existing data, as well as five options for feasible plans to mitigate the contamination, which Storlie will send to the DNR.

“Let’s start looking at it, engage the experts — the engineers who have worked on contaminated sediment sites, both in Wisconsin and all over the country — and let’s leverage their experience to work with the DNR, but not go for everything they’re asking for,” Storlie said.

The lead and PAH is left over from the La Crosse Gun Club, which leased a portion of Myrick Park from 1929 to 1963. The club set up four trap shooting stations to shoot targets over the marsh, leaving lead pellets and the remains of trap shooting targets where they lay.

A University of Wisconsin-La Crosse study — funded with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant and support from UW-L and the state Department of Natural Resources — presented to the city in early 2015 showed 50,000 lead pellets per square meter imbedded in the underwater soil, based on analysis of 400 surface soil samples and 33 core samples.

According to the study, which was first presented to the board in February 2015, the soils on the west side had surface lead levels as high as 26,700 milligrams per kilogram, qualifying the area as contaminated. However, the study concluded a cleanup would cause more harm than good.

The DNR, on the other hand, has instructed the city to address the contamination.

“We as a city have demonstrated and we will continue to demonstrate that we want to be good stewards of the environment,” Mayor Tim Kabat said; however, he had reservations about taking on lead and PAH removal in the marsh.

“This just seems to almost be kind of a blank check that the DNR wants us to start writing. It would be great if we could come up with some sort of agreement that that is a site where the less disturbance, the better. If we could do some things within reason, I’m sure the city would look at that,” Kabat said.

Cleaning up the lead is difficult and pricy, especially because there aren’t standards for amounts of acceptable lead, only guidelines.

“When you’re trying to address an issue or clean it up to a certain level, to not know what the level is makes it almost impossible to know when you’ve cleaned it up to the DNR’s satisfaction,” Kabat said.

Storlie estimated that a full removal and disposal could cost as much as $10 million or $20 million, and would include expensive barriers to mitigate effects on the rest of the marsh.

While the DNR helped fund the study, it has limited funds to help with the cleanup, much of which the city can’t access because as the property’s owner it’s deemed responsible for the contamination.

“I don’t believe the city ... at least at this stage, is all that interested in dealing with what is not a problem,” Kabat said.

The lead hasn’t worked its way into the water table or the city’s drinking water, and it doesn’t appear to be negatively affecting wildlife. Kabat and other board members were also loathe to upend the wildlife in the marsh by dredging it without proof that it’s necessary.

That doesn’t mean the city wants to do nothing; however, “We think there is room to argue for lesser responses than the DNR seems to be arguing for,” Storlie said.

The 3D models and report would lay out what those responses are and provide more data for the DNR to find some sort of middle ground between ignoring the lead and a more expensive cleanup.


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Jourdan Vian can be reached at jvian@lacrossetribune.com or follow her on Twitter at @Jourdan_LCT.

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City government reporter

Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering local government and city issues for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218.

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