by Tim Damos, Baraboo News Republic

Only one of the nearly 70 comments submitted to a state agency directly supported the U.S. Army’s proposed solution to groundwater pollution at a former weapons plant south of Baraboo.

More than two-thirds of the comments were critical of the Army’s plan, and about 15 commentators took no position or requested additional information. The Department of Natural Resources provided copies of the written comments to the Baraboo News Republic following an open records request.

“It is very important that the DNR does whatever it can to enforce active environmental restoration at Badger within reasonable means,” Marge Hill of Merrimac wrote to the DNR. “The Army needs to take responsibility to clean up the mess it has created.”

The Army, through its contractor, SpecPro, Inc., has determined the most cost effective solution to pollution that has plagued the 7,275-acre plant is to install a $40 million public water system for affected residents, phase out groundwater treatment efforts, and continue to monitor contaminants as they naturally break down in the environment.

The Army submitted that proposal to the DNR for approval, along with two alternatives, including:

• Continued groundwater treatment, and continued monitoring of contaminants as they naturally break down at a cost of $80 million

• Use of naturally occurring organisms to treat water, and continued monitoring of contaminants as they naturally break down at a cost of $61 million

“We see it as a win, win solution for everyone unless the new water rates would somehow significantly increase beyond what is the norm for a municipal water system,” wrote Paul and Barb Weum of Prairie du Sac in the only correspondence that directly supported the Army’s preferred solution.

Many of the individuals, government officials and organizations that submitted comments to the DNR said they liked the idea of a public water system, but did not want the Army to discontinue its groundwater treatment efforts at Badger.

“Don’t allow the Army to ‘package’ municipal water with shutdown of cleanup,” wrote Ken Lins of Prairie du Sac, who also serves as an at large member of the Badger Restoration Advisory Board. “They are two separate issues. Municipal water will not resolve all the issues facing this community. Cleanup must continue. Municipal water may be part of the answer, but it is not the total solution.”

If the public water system is installed and groundwater treatment is phased out, the DNR has indicated areas with contaminated groundwater still would be listed on the state’s groundwater registry.

Some who submitted comments to the DNR worried the registry listing would lower their property values.

“It would seem more practical that a municipal water system would allow for the removal (of) any properties in the proposed district from the Groundwater Registry,” stated Merrimac Town Administrator Tim McCumber.

DNR hydrogeologist Jeff Ackerman said it’s standard practice for the DNR to list properties with groundwater contamination on the registry — even in cities that have public water systems — as a public notice.

“I think there’s a strong perception that being listed on the groundwater does lower property values,” Ackerman said. “But I would counter that if someone’s selling a residence, they already have an obligation under residential real estate laws to report groundwater contamination … (The registry) is not the destroyer of property values. It’s the contamination.”

Ackerman said the DNR will review and evaluate the public comments it received as it makes a final determination on the Army’s proposal. The agency could accept or reject the Army’s proposals. Additionally, the DNR may place conditions upon its approval.

A decision from the DNR may come as soon as June.