EagleHerald Staff Writer

MARINETTE—The City of Marinette Common Council discussed Tuesday a Sept. 13 correspondence from Johnson Controls, Inc. (JCI) Vice President & Chief Sustainability, Global Government and Regulatory Affairs Officer Kathleen McGinty imploring the city to participate in the upcoming water solution discussions between the Town of Peshtigo, JCI and other stakeholders.

McGinty also asked the city to reconsider extending water to residents impacted by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) contamination in the town. In addition, she said that Tyco Fire Products (Tyco), the subsidiary of JCI responsible for the contamination, would be willing to discuss a $5 million bonus “to be used at the City’s discretion” in concert with a potential water extension agreement.

The city, however, made it clear that it isn’t interested in becoming involved in a solution when it passed a July resolution stating this disinterest, following which it voted down in August a motion to reconsider the resolution.

Proponents of the resolution are concerned about the long-term implications of providing water in terms of costs it could accrue for the city, who would be responsible for the operation and maintenance of a potential water system and how the city would manage possible expansion of the system, among other concerns.

Tyco has stated that it will cover the full cost of a water extension, but exactly what is considered to be the full cost would have to be defined through negotiations. Although the $5 million that McGinty said Tyco would potentially offer in addition to covering the costs of a water extension seems a substantial sum, some alderpersons said it doesn’t compensate for their concerns associated with providing water.

“We can spend that $5 million on special projects, which is great, but we’re still in the same situation in terms of our concerns about providing water and liabilities we might be taking on,” Alderperson Dorothy Kowalski said. “I don’t think personally that $5 million changes anything for us.”

The City Council’s support of the resolution, however, isn’t overwhelming; out of the seven council members present at the July meeting, two voted against it, and Alderperson Doug Oitzinger said he only voted in favor of the resolution to bring it back to council for reconsideration. The council was evenly split with a 4-4 vote for reconsideration of the resolution in August.

Alderpersons who oppose the resolution say that, although there are certain circumstances in which they wouldn’t support extending water to the Town of Peshtigo, refusing to enter into discussion on the matter isn’t the best way forward.

“I feel that unwillingness to talk seldom results in a positive outcome,” said Alderperson Jason Flatt, who voted against the resolution. “I see that the last paragraph of this letter from Tyco says ‘we would like to begin a dialogue with you,’ and I’m all for that.”

Oitzinger said that agreeing to enter into discussions, furthermore, does not mean the city has to ultimately follow through with providing water. “I look at this as an opening offer,” he said of Tyco’s letter. “I don’t look at it as a negotiated contract or deal.”

At the Aug. 4 council meeting, Oitzinger also said that he didn’t believe the city has adequately examined potential impacts of providing water to the town and therefore cannot say with certainty that providing water would have negative effects on city residents.

“If we do an investigation and get to a point where we can’t solve these problems, then I would be opposed to providing water,” he said in an interview with the EagleHerald. “But we haven’t looked into it enough, we don’t know if we can or can’t solve the problems.”

Other alderpersons have cited presentations by Water & Wastewater Operations Manager Warren Howard and engineering firm Ruekert-Mielke, which the city began working with in Apr. 2020 to assess water options, as having provided enough information.

But because these presentations and discussions were held in closed session, it’s difficult to determine the extent to which the city examined potential impacts and understand the details of any studies it solicited. Moreover, Ruekert-Mielke did not ultimately complete a full study for the city. In an interview with the EagleHerald, Mayor Steve Genisot said he “doesn’t have anything to get into at this point” regarding the Ruekert-Mielke study and that there was “no direction from the council to do anything further.” It’s unclear at this time how this decision was made or why there wasn’t action to complete the report.

Genisot emphasized that the Town of Peshtigo seems to be moving on from the City of Marinette as a potential long-term water supply option and entering into discussions with the City of Peshtigo on this matter. “If the two parties are agreeing to go this route, I’m not sure that it makes sense to look into a study right now,” he said.

Alderpersons Rick Polzin and Ken Keller, both of whom support the resolution, mentioned that they have not heard of direct input from Town of Peshtigo residents in JCI’s settlement area regarding what water option they would prefer.

“(Tyco) is missing the key people that are involved in this thing,” Polzin said, referring to the Town of Peshtigo residents in JCI’s settlement area. “I don’t know that we should step into anything until that’s fleshed out a little bit. The people out there have the right to decide their course of action.”

Although there has been some push to conduct a survey with residents, it appears that a comprehensive survey has never been completed. Director of Environmental Communications for JCI Kathleen Cantillon said in an email to the EagleHerald that Tyco submitted a draft survey to the former Town of Peshtigo board in March 2020 for review but did not subsequently receive direction or a formal reply from the board. Cantillon also said that Tyco asked for input from residents regarding various water supply options when communicating with them over the phone. The EagleHerald does not know at this time what feedback Tyco received from these phone calls.

Town of Peshtigo Supervisor Kristen Edgar said that the previous board had also made independent efforts to conduct an opinion poll but didn’t budget out money to fund a proper survey. To compensate, Edgar said she created an online link and hard-copy survey that was available at the Town Hall. But participation was minimal, according to Edgar. She said, however, that the summit could provide “a clearer path” and “a more targeted survey.”

Town of Peshtigo Chairperson Cindy Boyle also said at the Wednesday Water Committee meeting that, regardless of forward movement with the City of Peshtigo, it would be better to have all options on the table at the summit.

“The town hasn’t even determined if (the City of Marinette) is the way we want to go,” Boyle said. “That’s why we need to have the summit.”

In an email statement to the EagleHerald, Cantillon echoed this sentiment: “There are many design issues to be considered related to a municipal water line extension and other clean water source options, and that’s why getting all interested parties around the table for the facilitated dialogue is so promising and important,” she said.

Genisot still maintains that he hasn’t discounted discussion altogether. “I certainly haven’t discounted participating in the summit, depending on what the format will be,” he said at the Tuesday council meeting. “I certainly have that door open.”

It’s unclear, however, what kind of format would prompt Genisot to remove the city from discussions altogether.