Addition planned

The red star in this aerial view is the approximate location of the proposed addition at Rockwell Automation in Ladysmith

The Ladysmith Common Council continued its review of environmental review and design work for a planned addition at a city-owned industrial site now leased to Rockwell Automation.

Two weeks earlier, the council took no action on the matter to allow more time to review the environmental work proposal. After a short presentation, no action was taken at the council’s July 12 meeting.

Several months ago the council contracted with the engineering firm Short Elliott Hendrickson for environmental services at the site. The cost ranges from $16,000 to $19,000.

The proposed expansion would extend the facility onto city-owned land that currently consists of a paved parking lot. Past environmental concerns would need to be addressed with regulatory agencies in order to allow this proposed expansion.

The project involves soil contamination, according to City Administrator Alan Christianson. He said it involves a remediation case that was open in the 1980s and early 1990s which is considered closed.

The Rockwell facility is located at 1506 E. 16th St. The current facility consists of an approximate 150,000 square foot manufacturing facility producing relay and industrial control products. A previous occupant of the facility was the Mastercraft Casket Company (Mastercraft).

During historic operations at the Mastercraft site, subsurface soil and groundwater volatile organic compound (VOC) contamination was identified at the site. Site investigation and remediation activities were conducted at the site from the 1980s into the early 2000s with conditional site closure including a deed restriction granted by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in 2002.

“About 30 years ago the site was closed, said SEH Senior Project Manager Dan Penzkover. “It was closed once the parking lot was put there.”

The area of the site to be expanded onto is in a central location, where an existing employee parking lot is located between standing buildings. The existing parking lot serves as a cap over the past contamination. Expansion would remove the lot and the cap, hence renewing past environmental concerns. 

In 2017, the city contracted with Ayres Associates to prepare construction documents for a proposed 30,000 square foot addition to the west end of Rockwell. This project eventually was not completed after being designed and bid. The funding source for this prior project was to have been the city’s Mining Fund, which originated with revenue from the Flambeau Mine and can only be used for economic development projects.

As part of the new expansion proposal, the DNR is requiring a historical background search of the site in a post closure modification report.

“If Rockwell were to move forward and expand in that location they could do so but there are steps the DNR will require,” Penzkover said. “It doesn’t mean you are opening a can of worms. They can proceed with new expansion in that location but they would have to do some additional sampling to determine what level that contamination is at now, which could be less than it was 30 years ago or it could be the same depending on what the samples come back as.”

The parcel applicable to the deed restriction is currently owned by the city. This parcel is currently being considered for an approximate 35,000 square foot expansion of the existing Rockwell facility utilizing land that will remain owned by the city.

In order to remove the existing parking lot and replace it with the proposed building, the DNR requires a Post Closure Modification Request. Additional environmental investigation and potential construction observation may be required as part of the Post Closure Modification Request. Construction observation also may be required during building construction pending the results of these initial two tasks.

The environmental investigation includes procurement of a drilling and a laboratory subcontractor, preparation of a site-specific health and safety plan and clearance of subsurface utilities.

The proposed field activities would include taking six to 10 hydraulic probe soil borings to below the bottom of the proposed excavation depth, likely 8 to 12 feet below ground surface. to determine what other contaminants might be in the ground and at what concentrations. Soil samples would be collected continuously at each boring location, looking for staining, odors or other signs of contamination.

The locations of the borings will be selected in the field and will require input from Rockwell and city personnel. The input to be requested will include the most accurate proposed building layout and location available at the time of investigation, proposed construction details such as footing locations and depths, utility locations and depths, and any other areas of proposed asphalt cap disturbance and soil excavation activities as well as proposed site restoration activities such as landscaping and paving outside the building footprint.

Ald. Marty Reynolds called Rockwell a good employer and a good addition to the community.

“I think we have an obligation to them as well as to ourselves,” Reynolds said,

The city has yet to receive the building design proposal from Rockwell. If authorized the city would proceed with seeking design work for the proposed new Rockwell addition. Building design is contingent on results from the environmental review.

The addition will help Rockwell improve its operating efficiencies, according to Christianson. Currently, the company has storage in several locations around the city.

SEH and Rockwell Automation officials are in meetings to complete design work for the addition. They need a facility with a 30-foot-high ceiling.

This adds additional structural needs for a building, according to Penzkover.

“This is a big project for the city to undertake, so we are trying to task it out accordingly,” Penzkover said.

Generally, city officials seem supportive of the development.

No action was taken so both matters could be reviewed at a future council closed session as it involves a private employer and business expansion plans, despite the site being publicly owned.

Expansion for the new proposal could be funded through Tax Incremental District revenue.

In other matters, the council:

Unanimously approved serving as a “pass-through” agent for the Veterans Memorial Association so the VMA can seek a bid from the Rusk County Highway Department to pave the VMA Drop Zone lot, 605 Summit Ave., Ladysmith. Fundraising for the paving has been underway for the last 4 years, but county highway as a public government is prohibited from contracting for private work. As a result of the council’s action, the city will serve as a liaison between the county and municipality. Council members wanted to make abundantly clear the city is not funding this project in any way; it is just the conduit for VMA to get a bid for the work as it has been unable to do through a private contractor. No timeline is scheduled for the paving.

— Held a public hearing on the Community Development Block Grant used this summer for reconstructing parts of five downtown streets. No one in the audience spoke on the CDBG activities and performance in the project.

— Heard Rusk Area Chamber of Commerce Office Manager Andy Strom provide an update on its promotional events.

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