By BETH ALTENA
Wolverine Worldwide’s plan for treating groundwater at the former tannery site in downtown Rockford was approved during city council’s Monday meeting May 13. City Manager Thad Beard started the discussion and told council each of the five community members of the North Kent Sewer Authority is represented on the NKSA board and he represents Rockford. Beard said Wolverine has been working on a plan to treat groundwater at the old tannery location to remove PFAS from the water and stop PFAS contaminated water from entering the Rogue River. He said water collected and treated by Wolverine at the tannery site would be sent to the plant after PFAS is removed.
Beard said council was responsible for their approval of sending the pre-treated water to the sewer plant, although all five members will also be required to approve the decision.
“What’s unique here is the elimination of PFAS and other heavy metals before it comes to us, to levels of non-detect,” said Beard. He asked Scott Schoolcraft, Director of the PARCCside Clean Water Plant, which is responsible for treatment of sewer water for the City of Rockford and the townships of Plainfield, Algoma, Cannon and Courtland.
Schoolcraft said it is his job to protect the plant, which is designed to much higher amounts of flow than it currently treats. He said Wolverine’s added treated water would be 10,000 gallons of water a day. “It is a benefit to be part of the solution and protect the environment,” he said. “A year ago Wolverine came to us about treating the PFAS and send the water to us.”
“I’m very apprehensive to make sure this is done and done right,” Schoolcraft told council. “We need to make sure there are not other environmental aspects, lead, mercury, etc. My interpretation is that the other communities were very positive about this.” He said the sewer plant would bill the City of Rockford for the expense and Rockford would collect the money
Councilman Jeff Lewis wanted to know if Wolverine was done using PFAS in leather production by the time the plant was built and if there are other contaminants related to the tannery site.
Schoolcraft said yes, the use of PFAS was done when the plant was built and yes, there are other contaminants like ammonia that the plant is designed to remove from water.
“In 2008, when the plant went online, no one even knew what PFAS was.” He said PFAS is a wide range of chemical, with over 4,000 known chemicals in the PFAS family.
He said his concern about accepting the treated water is that PFAS has been removed before it reaches the plant. “At the plant we have the capacity to grow PFAS. It comes in long chains and breaks down so there is more of them.”
Councilman Ed Ross asked what kind of surcharge would be applied to the pretreated Wolverine water. Schoolcraft said that was an excellent question and charges would apply if the water from Wolverine would go over a set amount. He said the extra costs would be to cover the extra electricity used for treating the water.
Mayor Cheryl Scales asked if the surcharges would cover all associated costs, including engineering and any other cost. Schoolcraft confirmed this. “There would be no financial impact or costs for any of the entities.”
Lewis said he liked the redundancy of treating the water twice. “It feels like state of the art.”
Council unanimously approved allowing treated tannery water to be sent to the PARCCside Clean Water plant. Beard said the treating of groundwater is to stop contaminated water from getting into the Rogue River. Beard said eventual removal of the sand would be necessary to remove PFAS from the site. “This is the first step of treatment. I’m happy to be part of the solution.”