Despite assurances of safety, residents are concerned about health and environmental impacts and want to delay the coming demolition of the state’s sprawling, century-old Central Services Facility on the Near East Side.
The state Department of Administration, which is razing the 180,000-square-foot industrial building near Williamson Street and the Yahara River for a $46.7 million archive preservation facility for the Wisconsin Historical Society and Wisconsin Veterans Museum, is moving ahead. But on Friday, DOA agreed to meet with state lawmakers who represent the area.
Residents are concerned about possible soil and groundwater contamination, noise, dust, and effects on an adjacent bike path and the river. They also are upset about a lack of communication and scant notice of the timing of demolition. The drab grey building at 202 S. Thornton St., built between 1895 and 1924, has been used for heavy industry, and since 1972, for state vehicles, mail handling and printing services.
“It’s a big deal,” Marquette Neighborhood Association president Lynn Lee said.
The DOA, which participated in a neighborhood meeting late last year, recently issued a one-page memo assuring the building will be removed “without any major disruption to the surrounding neighbors or businesses.” Based on an environmental assessment by a consultant, “the project is not a major action which will significantly affect the quality of the human environment,” it says.
The memo also lists a series of actions to be taken to address community concerns, including:
- An erosion control plan including daily monitoring of containment barriers and provisions to mitigate runoff outside the site, with an independent consultant engineer to make sure the contractor follows the plan.
- Appropriate asbestos abatement including dust barriers with the building removed in pieces with no explosives or wrecking ball.
- Keeping sections of the building wet during construction to reduce dust.
- Traffic control at adjacent streets, bike paths and pedestrian walkways.
- A fence to secure the site with all debris collected onsite inside the fence and then moved off site.
The neighborhood and local and state lawmakers have tried to get more information for months and said they found the DOA’s communication and process inadequate.
On Friday, two residents wrote to city and state officials about results of a sediment sample taken near the building that shows PCBs exist outside the structure.
In a four-page memo in December 2014, Maria Powell, president of the Midwest Environmental Justice Organization, said residents are generally not opposed to the location for the new facility, but that the DOA’s environmental assessment “downplays or neglects several toxic contaminant issues related to the site’s past 100-plus years of heavy industrial uses.”
Powell said more testing is needed to define the scope of PCB contamination and that plans for preventing human exposure to toxic dust and controlling sediment and other runoff are inadequate or unclear.
“It’s an old building and it’s been used for a lot of different things over the years,” said neighborhood association board member Anne Walker. “The neighborhood has valid questions.”
Ald. Marsha Rummel, 6th District, said she’s been trying to get a meeting for months.
Although the redevelopment was unveiled two years ago, the DOA on Aug. 26 made public that the demolition would begin Aug. 31. Some barriers have been erected and there is some activity at the site, but major work hasn’t started.
This week, residents, Rummel, state Sen. Fred Risser and Rep. Chris Taylor, both D-Madison, sought a meeting and better lines of communication. U.S. Sen Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, is also asking questions.
On Tuesday, Risser and Taylor sent a letter to DOA Secretary Scott Neitzel requesting a meeting involving DOA staff, Risser and Taylor, Rummel, and residents who have been presenting detailed questions.
The letter says Risser and Taylor originally emailed a request for a meeting with DOA staff in June, but were told the request was premature because contractors hadn’t been picked. The lawmakers agreed to wait until bidding was finished, yet only learned from constituents last week that the project was about to start, it says.
“We want them to delay (the demolition) until we get some answers,” Taylor said in an interview.
DOA spokesman Cullen Werwie on Thursday said, “DOA followed the appropriate process, received the necessary approvals, and is moving forward on this project. We have provided updates on the project and will continue to in the future.”
On Friday, DOA agreed to schedule a meeting for next week, Taylor said.
Baldwin on Aug. 26 wrote to the DOA saying she had contacted the federal Environmental Protection Agency seeking its rules and guidelines for the demolition. Baldwin also asked DOA to share how it plans to communicate with the public, share details on additional testing for contaminants, and explain how the potential for vapor intrusion of dangerous substances has been assessed.
[Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect a correction. In the original, the first name of Maria Powell was misspelled.]