The recent hullabaloo over the Monterey lagoon restoration has me wishing for the days of simpler drama in Janesville, such as the sidewalk debate. To be certain, that drama got old, too, but the lines of discussion at least did not require interpretations from chemists and physicists.
In the most recent chapter of the Monterey Dam removal and shoreline restoration, the city would do well to remove all impedances to data discovery, clarification and discussion.
Far be it from me to claim to be an expert in contaminated sediment or the soil composition needed to create a lasting berm. I will, however, offer my observations on the two seemingly immovable forces at play: The (former) Save the Monterey Dam group and the city of Janesville. On my WCLO radio show, I’ve had representatives from both sides speak to the latest incidents which have ultimately resulted in a parting of ways between the contractor for the restoration project, Drax, and the city.
City representatives continue to work the problem, while taking little notice of the pleas for further explanation from some residents. The opposition group continues to villainize the city and suggest that any media that allows city officials to explain their process is somehow part of a vast conspiracy. Neither is completely productive.
It is my belief that the complexity of the issues involved is part of the problem. What average resident or radio host can consider themselves an expert in soil contamination and its potential for risk to a population? Not I.
I do, however, believe that it would be in the city’s best interest to provide just such an expert. Surely, there is some unbiased scientist or authority from the state, a university or environmental firm that could weigh in on the findings of the numerous sediment reports. The questions being posed by some residents are not unreasonable.
Is there a health hazard from the sediment to humans or pets? If no hazard exists, why is the state Department of Natural Resources concerned enough to ask for a six-inch topsoil cap over any repurposed soil from the basin? Why was the quality of the soil presumed to be repurposed for restoration not tested for viability prior to putting the contract for bids? Why, when the contractor tested the soil, did the city ask them to stop further testing?
If there is nothing being swept under the rug, these and other questions should be readily answered by the city officials involved. They can have a full hour of my show to do so if they like.
Unfortunately, the city has an operational pattern of plowing ahead, usually to a successful conclusion mind you, but leaving detractors feeling disenfranchised. Repeating this pattern over and over is, in my opinion, a mistake that drives unnecessary wedges between residents with differing viewpoints and elected officials.
Janesville City Council members and taxpayer-supported city employees should take the first step in extending the hand of understanding. I encourage them to put together a public gathering that can give the facts surrounding the Monterey lagoon area. Detractors of the process then have a duty to attend, listen and ask every question they have. They should also accept the conclusions of professionals.
Yes, such a process would consume valuable city staff time and resources. In this case, I believe both would be well spent.