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DNR wraps up remediation at former Janesville General Motors site

JANESVILLE

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has closed the book on environmental remediation at the former General Motors plant site in Janesville.

In a letter Thursday, the state’s lead environmental regulator granted the main GM plant site’s owner, Commercial Development “case closure” after a nearly two-year remediation process.

It means the DNR is clearing the 115-acre parcel and smaller adjacent properties on West Delavan Drive and South Jackson Street from further investigation and no longer will require removal of 100 years of industrial contamination. Both the DNR and the site’s owner report that contamination continues to exist in the ground on the massive parcel.

That site now has the same level of environmental closure that the DNR earlier granted the former 115-acre JATCO haul-away yard, a former GM plant property to the south of the main plant site. It had less intense industrial use than the main site.

The DNR’s decision, according to the letter, allows Commercial Development to leave in place dozens of acres of concrete foundations from the former auto plant that sprawl across the main GM plant site. It also allows to be left in place piles of crushed asphalt and concrete rubble spread out on site.

The city of Janesville has said it intends to fine Commercial Development over the owner’s failure to remove the concrete and rubble under its commercial demolition and cleanup ordinance.

But the DNR in its decision said it considers the 9-inch-thick former factory foundations that spread across large swaths of the property, plus rubble that Commercial Development has crushed and piled up around the site, a “cap” that covers lingering ground contamination of petroleum, hydrocarbons and chlorine. DNR said reports show those remain in the ground around the former plant.

That existing concrete “cover,” the DNR said in the letter, “was designed to be protective for commercial and industrial land uses.”

In earlier discussions, Commercial Development had asked the DNR and the city if it could keep concrete pads from the old GM factory in place, both as ground cover and as ready-made pads for the development of new industrial buildings on the old plant site. Commercial Development and the city of Janesville earlier had renamed the site “Centennial Park.”

Commercial Development, a St. Louis brownfield redevelopment company, had also earlier publicly offered plans for industrial redevelopment at the site—particularly in areas that are adjacent to its extensive railroad infrastructure. The company said it intended to work with private railroad officials and the city to return the former plant to marketable development land. It said uses could include mixed-use commercial and residential development alongside intermodal, distribution and other light industrial uses.

But attempts by Commercial Development to auction off the entire property in an online sale late in 2021 apparently were unsuccessful.

At that time, the property remained under environmental review by the DNR, and city officials said the property owner’s behavior signaled that Commercial Development intended to “cut and run” without clearing the site to the city’s standards.

Commercial Development spent about two years between 2018 and 2020 clearing and scrapping out millions of square feet of the former GM plant’s main buildings, but the site hasn’t seen any significant activity since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

A Gazette investigation in 2017 showed Commercial Development has not always taken an active role in redeveloping properties after it has removed factory buildings and has profited from the sale of scrap metal and equipment from properties it has bought.

Commercial Development, meanwhile, had racked up more than a half million dollars in back taxes, unpaid utilities fees and city of Janesville property reinspection fees.

Officials at Janesville’s building department have said the city intends to continue to fine Commercial Development until the company complies with its rules that require removal of foundations, rubble and other debris from the site.

The DNR in its letter said if Commercial Development sells off the site, the next owner would be required to adhere to ongoing environmental obligations, including obtaining approval from the DNR to disturb or remove any of the dozens of acres of concrete “cap” on the ground.

It’s not clear if the DNR will require the site owner to cover the cap with soil and grass, although the city of Janesville’s demolition ordinance requires such cover for cleared industrial land.

City of Janesville Economic Development Director Jimsi Kuborn said she wasn’t prepared to make a statement Friday on the DNR’s decision but said the city will allow Commercial Development to keep old concrete and rubble in place as a cap.

Kuborn said top city staff intend to meet in Janesville with Commercial Development officials Tuesday. She said she intends to proceed as she would with any property owner in the city that has plans for industrial development or redevelopment.

Kuborn said she believes Commercial Development and the city will further discuss the DNR’s closure letter, but as of Friday, she said she had seen “no agenda” for what Commercial Development and the city might talk about.


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Parker High School grads speak of 'perseverance' in pandemic years

JANESVILLE

When members of Janesville Parker High School’s Class of 2022 recall their graduation day years from now, they might remember the cloudless high blue sky and breezy early summer air at Monterey Stadium that carried a mild, green smell of the Rock River.

They might remember the thousands of parents, family members and friends who turned out on a nearly perfect, 75-degree evening to see them cross the stage and receive their diplomas.

Anthony Wahl 

Parker High School’s graduating seniors celebrate at the end of their commencement ceremony at Monterey Stadium in Janesville on Friday.

But some of the 308 Parker grads on Friday night said what they’ll remember most about graduation is the challenges they faced getting there.

And that’s not a graduation day cliche. The Class of 2022, like few others, faced a tidal wave of change in their public, personal and school lives during their high school years.

Parker graduates were sophomores who were yet to find their feet in life and teenage-hood when COVID-19 hit. The pandemic left their schools, their sports and their young lives shut down for months.

One student during an address said she can remember at age 15 telling one of her athletics coaches tearfully that she “didn’t want him to die” from COVID-19.

Eventually came a hybrid of virtual schooling, and then in-person schooling, and then vaccinations, all amid a gradual return to some normal stuff—like learning how to board a canoe in gym class.

Parker senior Sydney Pajerski told her classmates over loudspeakers Friday night how that one small experience—an attempt to properly climb into a canoe while standing in waist-deep water—stands out like a beacon in her memory.

During the pandemic lockdown, Pajerski wouldn’t have had the opportunity to trip headlong into a canoe and end up with a banged-up hip, wedged sideways into the cramped hull of the vessel.

“Life is about timing and technique, which we didn’t have,” Pajerski said.

Not long after that experience, Pajerski and a friend more successfully handled a canoe, in a real navigational situation on the Sugar River.

At 8:05 p.m. the crackle of fireworks began as long shadows crossed the big football field at Monterey Stadium. The traditional volley of loud mortars filled the evening sky with smoke and chest-rattling noise.

That came after some stirring music by Parker’s a cappella choir, an arrangement of 1980s pink-haired icon Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.”

No matter what turmoil the young adults who graduated Friday night have faced over the past two years, in one student’s viewpoint the most challenging moments of high school came a few months before the pandemic hit.

Parker grad Cisco Garcia told classmates in a speech that in 2020, a few days before he started his sophomore year at Parker, he decided to publicly announce that he is gay.

Garcia said he expected to get hammered with jeers, bullying and bigotry from some classmates after he openly proclaimed his sexual orientation.

But that’s not what occurred.

Instead, Garcia said the day he found himself, and told the world who he is, dozens and dozens of his classmates—some he knew, many he didn’t—sent him text messages of encouragement and support.

Friday night, when Garcia told his classmates about his experience as a 15-year-old announcing his sexual orientation, he got interrupted midsentence.

His classmates and the crowd in the stadium bleachers erupted in applause—more than a tip of a cap to Garcia for his fearlessness and honesty. The cheered response Friday night surprised Garcia.

“I would definitely never have expected that two years ago,” he said.

Emma Lippens, a Parker grad who said she plans to study nursing at Carthage College, added as a parting note in her address to students a promise she wouldn’t have been able to make back when pandemic lockdown had put a damper on most traditional social functions.

Lippens did not say goodbye. And she didn’t say she hoped to jump on a Zoom call with her friends sometime soon. She said she has a feeling she’ll be seeing her schoolmates again. In person, too.

“I’ll see you guys at our class reunion,” Lippens said.


Death_list
Obituaries and death notices for June 6, 2022

David E. Brandenburg

Dennis G. Carroll

Michelle A. Chart

Sarah Louise Cullen

William J. “Bill” Dongarra

Frances W. Dutton

Ashley Lynn Friis

Donna J. Geitner

Dennis “Denny” Hanks

Bryce E. King Jr.

Ida M. Kolak

John Love

Betty A. Marenes

Matthew E. McDermott

Christine J. Pollak

Jean E. Tronnes

David A. Vogel


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