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Menomonee Falls residents sound off against Chemworks plant

They fear odor, contamination, declining property values

Menomonee Falls resident Rachel Bettermann addresses the Plan Commission at a packed meeting Monday.

Menomonee Falls resident Rachel Bettermann addresses the Plan Commission at a packed meeting Monday. Photo By Jonah White

March 25, 2014

Menomonee FallsAmid a packed school gymnasium that was, at times, standing room only, Menomonee Falls residents received the latest update and weighed in on the controversial Chemworks proposal.

The Plan Commission, the appointed body charged with making a decision on the company's operations plan, did not take any action during a meeting Monday that spanned three-and-a-half hours.The company was contracted for water and waste treatment.

But commissioners did hear a report from a consultant hired by the village and took comments from dozens of residents.

In August, the village granted Advanced Waste Services, parent company of Chemworks, an occupancy permit. The maneuver gave the company the green light to begin renovating a former concrete block manufacturing plant on a 21.6-acre parcel at N5998 Lilly Road.

More recently, an outcry has erupted from nearby residential property owners, who have implored village officials not to allow Chemworks to proceed with its plans.

Since the permit was issued, concerns have arisen as reports have surfaced about odor complaints at Chemworks' existing facility on Milwaukee's west side. Nearby residents complained to Milwaukee officials about odors that allegedly caused some people to feel ill.

At Monday's meeting, representatives from the environmental and civil engineering firm The Sigma Group presented findings from their analysis, which included a visit to the company's current Milwaukee facility.

The company's top-down review included a look at the company's potential risks and contingency measures that are in place.

For example, Chemworks' operations include treating wastewater and laboratory waste. Sigma officials assert insufficiently treated wastewater could be discharged into the village's sanitary sewer system. Contamination and odors are other potential risks.

But Sigma officials also pointed to some of Chemworks' plans to prevent such scenarios from cropping up. For example, basins are to be constructed in such a way that storm water contact will be mitigated.

Monday night, dozens of residents, many opposed to Chemworks' plans for the site, lined up, single file, to speak to commissioners.

Early in the public comment phase, the decibel level had increased as members of the audience chimed in as speakers were offering their viewpoint.

"Public comment does not take place from anywhere but that (microphone) stand," Village President and Plan Commission Chair Randall Newman said at one point.

Most of the speakers lived in subdivisions near the proposed site. Overarching concerns revolved around environmental impacts, noise, odors, potential health issues and perceived declining property values.

Resident Mike McDonald, a former trustee, said he believed there were a number of red flags associated with the development.

McDonald and others pointed to the $11,475 in fines racked up by Chemworks. The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District found the company in violation in 24 incidents between 2007 and 2012.

"As we all know, once (Chemworks) is there, it stays," McDonald said. "This does not have any place in the neighborhood, period."

Julie Poetzel, a resident and biology teacher at Menomonee Falls Middle School, shared a litany of environmental concerns.

"If chemicals get in that water, I don't want a Simpsons cartoon in my yard," Poetzel said. "It's not only going to affect me ... it's going to affect the environment."

Not all of the comments were in opposition to Chemworks and its plans, however. Resident Jeff Hughes pointed to the potential jobs and economic value Chemworks could bring to the community.

"I think this is exactly the kind of business we want coming into Menomonee Falls," Hughes said.

Representatives from Chemworks were not at Monday's meeting to comment.

NEXT STEP

WHO: Menomonee Falls Plan Commission

WHAT: Further discussion, possible action on Chemworks proposal

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. April 9

WHERE: Ben Franklin Elementary School, W14701 Franklin Drive

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