Local contractors making progress at We Energies bluff site

The Oct. 31 bluff collapse at the We Energies power plant in Oak Creek sent coal ash and construction equipment tumbling into Lake Michigan, and several local companies are still working to clean it up.

Oak Creek-based Edgerton Contractors Inc. has assisted with earth-moving, and Milwaukee-based Edward E. Gillen Co., with overall coordination and Massachusetts-based Clean Harbors, has assisted  with water cleanup, said Barry McNulty, manager of media relations and special projects at We Energies.

Ten companies in all, including six from Wisconsin, are working to repair the bluff and remove debris from the site.

The cause of the collapse, which happened near an air quality control construction project at the plant, has not yet been determined, McNulty said.  Both plant operations and construction continued after the collapse.

“There’s an ongoing investigation that continues,” McNulty said. “Once that is concluded, we’ll have a better understanding.”

Dawes Rigging and Crane Rental Inc., a Milwaukee company that was working on a We Energies wind turbine project in Cambria, quickly disassembled a 440-ton capacity crane at that site and transported it to the bluff collapse site, said Joe Ruddell, rental division sales manager for Dawes.

The large crane was needed for the last heavy piece of debris yet to be moved, a filter press used for collecting and compacting sediment that weighs more than 40 tons, McNulty said.

The crane reassembly was completed Thursday, and the filter press will likely be moved early next week, he said.

Dawes has also provided smaller cranes from the start to lift other equipment off the collapsed bluff, Ruddell said.

“This is kind of an ongoing process to determine what we’re going to be lifting and how to lift it from a safety standpoint,” Ruddell said.

There’s no clear sign yet when that work will be finished, but emergency work is familiar for Dawes.
The company is on permanent standby with the Milwaukee County Zoo and the Airforce National Guard for emergency situations, he said.

Weather conditions will heavily impact the completion time for the project, Ruddell said.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources tests conducted at the site on Nov. 11 showed no threat to public health or safety from the coal ash and other contamination in the lake.

“While having coal ash get to Lake Michigan is certainly a cause for concern, the amount of environmental risk in this situation is small,” said Lloyd Eagan, DNR water leader for southern Wisconsin. “Water quality at the spill site is close to the normal water quality of Lake Michigan. Outside the spill site, the water quality is normal. There will not be long-term impacts to the aquatic environment once the spilled material is removed.”

David Lee, We Energies water quality manager, testified at a Wisconsin Great Lakes Caucus briefing at the Capitol on Thursday about the incident.

We Energies also posted a blog about the bluff cleanup on Thursday. It gave an update and summary of the project, as well as details on who will be responsible for the cost of clean-up.

“As we continue to conduct the root cause analysis of the bluff collapse, we can say that a portion of the expenses, such as those incurred to remove material and equipment that washed into lake, will be incurred by the company this year as an operational expense and will not be passed on to customers. Completing the root cause analysis of the bluff failure at the site is necessary before we can accurately answer the entire question of who will pay for the recovery costs,” the blog said.

Molly Newman is a reporter at BizTimes Milwaukee.

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