We Energies pitching $15.9 million plan to clean up Solvay Coke site

EPA seeking public comment on remediation plan

Cleaning up contaminated soil at the former Solvay Coke site in Milwaukee’s Inner Harbor would cost almost $15.9 million under a plan recommended to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by a WEC Energy Group subsidiary.

View of the Solvay Coke site.

Wisconsin Gas LLC, doing business as We Energies, recommended the plan as part of an engineering evaluation/cost analysis for the site. The company bought the property last year following the bankruptcy of a developer that had proposed a massive mixed-use project for the site in the early 2000s.

Earlier this year, Komatsu Mining Corp. announced plans for a $285 million manufacturing and office development on the property and an adjacent parcel owned by the city.

We Energies’ timeline calls for remediation work to begin in February 2019. Komatsu plans to begin construction in late 2019 after receiving Common Council approval for the project on Tuesday.

The plan proposed by We Energies and recommended by the EPA would stabilize, solidify and cap most oily soil on the site while also excavating a small volume as well. Soil that is possibly contaminated with cyanide would be excavated and disposed. Piping that could lead to the contamination of surface water would be removed and a direct contact barrier would be installed over roughly 6.8 acres. A groundwater monitoring well network would also be installed.

We Energies would perform the recommended work with supervision from the EPA. The agency is seeking public comment on the plan through Jan. 18.

In an email, Amy Jahns, a spokeswoman for We Energies, said the company has used all of the options included in its report to the EPA on other sites and will comply with the EPA’s final recommendation.

“We are working with other potentially responsible parties relative to both the upland and river sediment cleanup as well as determining the ultimate allocation of financial responsibility for the actual remediation costs,” Jahns said. “We look forward to getting this work finished so that the site can be put to productive use by the future owner.”

The site is part of an ongoing legal battle between We Energies and Ohio-based Cliffs Mining Co.

Cliffs and We Energies, along with three other entities, were deemed potential responsible parties for environmental contamination at the site. The group reached an agreement with the EPA in 2007 that called for a remedial investigation and feasibility analysis for the site.

The investigation was completed in 2016 and the parties were preparing for the feasibility study, but We Energies reached a deal of its own with the EPA for the engineering evaluation and cost analysis.

Cliffs then sued We Energies, alleging the utility had broken the 2007 agreement and was pursuing a more costly clean-up approach to redevelop the site quickly. Cliffs also claimed the new agreement essentially wasted the money Cliffs had spent for the original remedial investigation.

A U.S. magistrate judge in November agreed it was possible Cliffs’ money had been wasted and allowed the case to continue.

At a scheduling conference last week, attorneys for We Energies said there will be more certainty about potential costs when the EPA makes a final decision about how to remediate the site. Attorney Joseph Cancila said more certainty on cost could spur settlement talks, according to court records.

Cleaning up contaminated soil at the former Solvay Coke site in Milwaukee’s Inner Harbor would cost almost $15.9 million under a plan recommended to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by a WEC Energy Group subsidiary.

View of the Solvay Coke site.

Wisconsin Gas LLC, doing business as We Energies, recommended the plan as part of an engineering evaluation/cost analysis for the site. The company bought the property last year following the bankruptcy of a developer that had proposed a massive mixed-use project for the site in the early 2000s.

Earlier this year, Komatsu Mining Corp. announced plans for a $285 million manufacturing and office development on the property and an adjacent parcel owned by the city.

We Energies’ timeline calls for remediation work to begin in February 2019. Komatsu plans to begin construction in late 2019 after receiving Common Council approval for the project on Tuesday.

The plan proposed by We Energies and recommended by the EPA would stabilize, solidify and cap most oily soil on the site while also excavating a small volume as well. Soil that is possibly contaminated with cyanide would be excavated and disposed. Piping that could lead to the contamination of surface water would be removed and a direct contact barrier would be installed over roughly 6.8 acres. A groundwater monitoring well network would also be installed.

We Energies would perform the recommended work with supervision from the EPA. The agency is seeking public comment on the plan through Jan. 18.

In an email, Amy Jahns, a spokeswoman for We Energies, said the company has used all of the options included in its report to the EPA on other sites and will comply with the EPA’s final recommendation.

“We are working with other potentially responsible parties relative to both the upland and river sediment cleanup as well as determining the ultimate allocation of financial responsibility for the actual remediation costs,” Jahns said. “We look forward to getting this work finished so that the site can be put to productive use by the future owner.”

The site is part of an ongoing legal battle between We Energies and Ohio-based Cliffs Mining Co.

Cliffs and We Energies, along with three other entities, were deemed potential responsible parties for environmental contamination at the site. The group reached an agreement with the EPA in 2007 that called for a remedial investigation and feasibility analysis for the site.

The investigation was completed in 2016 and the parties were preparing for the feasibility study, but We Energies reached a deal of its own with the EPA for the engineering evaluation and cost analysis.

Cliffs then sued We Energies, alleging the utility had broken the 2007 agreement and was pursuing a more costly clean-up approach to redevelop the site quickly. Cliffs also claimed the new agreement essentially wasted the money Cliffs had spent for the original remedial investigation.

A U.S. magistrate judge in November agreed it was possible Cliffs’ money had been wasted and allowed the case to continue.

At a scheduling conference last week, attorneys for We Energies said there will be more certainty about potential costs when the EPA makes a final decision about how to remediate the site. Attorney Joseph Cancila said more certainty on cost could spur settlement talks, according to court records.

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