Answer

Our friends, family, and neighbors living on French Island are living with knowledge or fear that their wells may be contaminated. No one should have to worry about their drinking water. The long-term effects on our health and land are unacceptable.

BACKGROUND: Recent testing of wells on French Island revealed high-levels of a dangerous group of man-made chemicals, collectively called PFAS. The source is believed to be firefighting foam that is required by the federal government to be used at airports like the La Crosse Regional Airport. The extent of the contamination is still being determined. Meanwhile, the City has already filed a lawsuit against several manufacturers of the foam. The Mayor has stated the companies knew of the health hazards of this foam for decades.

Our French Island neighbors are living in fear. Additionally, our firefighters have an additional health risk. The cost to the City of La Crosse continues to rise for this problem, created by federal government regulation.

I've been asked how would I lead this issue, as mayor, moving forward?

Everyone deserves to have safe drinking water. I heard from Travis, concerned because his grandmother's well tested high. My friend's well appears to be fine, but she still doesn't want her four-year-old daughter accidentally drinking from the tap. My former co-worker shouldn't have to worry about cancer and other side-effects developing in his college-age daughters who drank the water all of their lives.

The fear is real. It is understandable. The only way to subside, not resolve, fear is by having a plan that is clearly communicated. There are no winners in this situation. We can't fix the actions of the past, but we can unite to find an effective, shared solution, moving forward, together. By being a collective voice for this area to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), we can seek both short- and long-term solutions to a problem created by federal government regulations.

Short-Term Priorities

PROVIDE ACCESS TO CLEAN WATER to those with PFAS contamination

The City hired a consultant to test wells. The investigation should continue. Residents are also testing their wells. Everyone with PFAS contamination should have access and receive clean drinking water.

STOP using the foam

We must find an alternative to using this known health hazard. We cannot continue to contaminate our groundwater, our wells, and our land, and we need to protect our firefighters. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Rep. Kind must help us overturn the federal law mandating this particular foam.

MEET WITH CONCERNED CITIZENS & CAMPBELL

The citizens know the history of the island. Their information can help the process and build communication avenues with the city.

ESTABLISH COMMUNICATION METHODS

We need a short and long-term plan that is effectively communicated to the Town of Campbell Board and those living in the 1600 homes and apartments on French Island. Many of these individuals are researching and providing additional information to the investigation. Establishing two-way communication strengthens the voice moving forward with manufacturers, the Wisconsin DNR, and the federal government. Fear is a valid emotion enveloping this conversation. The City and Town can ease some of this fear by agreeing upon a path moving forward and keeping our friends and family informed.

EXPAND SCOPE

In light of a plane crash in the 1970s in the area northwest of the airport, we must expand testing around this area.

EXPAND TESTING: Identify the extent/significance of the problem

I've been told the national labs don't have the staffing to test every well on French Island quickly. There are discussions of creating a local lab using UW-L and private businesses that have the ability to test water. Until that time, the consulting company hired by the City, with help from the Town and residents, must continue to explore all sources and the extent of the contamination.

ADVOCATE for state and federal funding

As this letter to the editor from Sen. Brad Pfaff and Rep. Jill Billings points out, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers's budget includes a state action plan, additional testing, and funding for local governments. Congressman Ron Kind and Sen. Tammy Baldwin are also working on funding for PFAS and research on exposure levels. I've gone to Madison and Washington D.C. with local issues. If we can gather the many voices of those impacted, it will get heard. 

CONTINUE THE LAWSUIT of manufacturers

Their knowledge decades earlier of these dangerous chemicals is not acceptable, and they must be held accountable.

 

Long-Term Priorities

SOLUTIONS & BEST PRACTICES

Solutions: The problem is new. Solutions are being developed. We must explore all options to fixing the contaminated water in the wells. Connecting residents in the Town of Campbell to La Crosse City water is controversial but should be included in discussions.

Best Practices: Every community with an airport or Military base faces the same contamination problem that the residents of the Town of Campbell are facing because of the federal regulation. Some may be ahead of La Crosse in finding solutions. I have previously worked with the head of the Wisconsin League of Municipalities, Jerry Deschane. I will work with him to coordinate Wisconsin efforts. Because of my work with the Builders Association, economic development associations, and Chamber of Commerce, I also know the value of monitoring national work as well. I will be identifying communities leading in this PFAS work, such as Marinette, WI and the state of Michigan.

PROPERTY IMPACT

Realtors will need to know the impact of PFAS on property values. Having long-term solutions will, obviously, improve those values. My positive relationship with the La Crosse Area REALTORS Association will help ensure those individuals listing properties are informed. 

CONTINUED COMMUNICATION

The City of La Crosse and Town of Campbell must continue to communicate with those impacted. Keeping the relationship with the Town of Campbell amicable will be key. I have experience working across borders for the greater good as part of my work at the 7 Rivers Alliance. 

PLAN ADAPTATION

We will learn as this plan moves forward adapt as we learn new information. We must collaborate with the City of La Crosse, Town of Campbell, and residents impacted to adapt this plan until a solution is identified.

MONITORING

We know the ground water is contaminated, so much so that the City has shut down two of their wells, #23 and #24. How PFAS settles in our ground and water, how it travels, and how it is resolved must continue to be monitored.