Citizens picket dirty construction site in Madison

On Monday, July 15, starting at 8:00 am, Steve Vanko and about 11 neighbors on Monona Bay, and other people concerned about Madison’s lakes, picketed for nearly two hours at 1102 South Park Street.

Mary Jo Ola of WISC-TV interviews Steve Vanko

They wanted to call attention to repeated pollution of Monona Bay, from the Ghidorzi Companies construction site, where they are picketing.  They feel that response from officials--to 13 sediment spills--has been ineffective.

Steve Vanko is not a patient man.  As a retired firefighter, he’s used to solving problems--fast.  You don’t
wait for a fire to stop--or drop by the next day to see how it‘s doing.

Firefighters solve all kinds of problems besides fires.  When they respond to a call about a flooded basement, they have pumps and squeegees right there in the rig.  Problem solved.

So Steve can’t understand why, during the last year, there have been 13 sediment spills into Monona Bay.  The brown water comes out of a blue pipe and an overflow culvert, right in front of his house at 954 West Shore Drive.

It usually happens during a storm and then continues
for hours.  The discharge turns the bay brown as far as 50 or 100 feet from the shore.  The polluted area slowly drifts south along the shore towards Bernie‘s Beach.

Steve traced the source of the sediment back to the Ghidorzi Companies’ construction site, a block from his house.  Later, City staff confirmed  that the blue pipe in front of Steve’s house connects with Ghidorzi.

This will be the home for the Wingra Family Medical Center and other health care facilities.  Ghidorzi Companies, headquartered in Wausau, is both the owner and the builder.  Today is the first day of business for the Medical Center.

When there’s rain, Steve takes photos of the discharge and then goes to the Ghidorzi site.  There, he takes photos of mud escaping the site and running into the nearby stormsewers.

He photographs other stormsewer outlets to the bay, showing that only the Ghidorzi outlet is causing brown in the bay.

Early last summer, Steve made a few calls about insulation from Ghidorzi that was blowing about the neighborhood.  But after a big storm on July 18, 2012, Steve became more persistent with his calls.

During that storm, a white scum of Styrofoam washed into the bay.  After several calls, a city Vactor truck came out.  They were able to suck up about 85% of the Styrofoam.  But a lot of the plastic lodged among rocks and weeds on the shore, where it can easily be  found a year later.

Steve wonders: “Why does the City do cleanup for a private contractor?  Why don’t they just fine them and order a cleanup at Ghidorzi’s expense?  The City hasn’t ticketed a contractor in years.”

Sometimes the brown plume even appears during sunny weather. On last Oct 16, when this happened,  Steve walked over to the Ghidorzi site.  He talked to a worker, who affirmed they “were pumping” and Steve saw the blue hose that contractors typically use to pump water off of a construction site

There are clear rules requiring filtration of any water pumped off-site.  Steve thinks they were pumping unfiltered water into a stormsewer pipe located near the demolished buildings.  As a firefighter stationed in the area, he knows companies in the area used to have stormsewer connections in their basements.

Steve has called around to all the responsible officials he can find.  “The first few times, they would come out within an hour, take a few photos, and then say: ‘There’s not much we can do.’”  He got referred from one official to another.  After a while, they stopped responding entirely.

After one complaint, a City Vactor truck came out the evening of July 18.  Steve and his neighbor were standing there in the rain while the operator called his supervisor.  Steve overheard: “These guys aren’t going to leave unless we do something.”

That was the night of the first muddy discharge. Since then, Steve has photographed at least 11 muddy plumes into the bay.

So Steve isn’t going to give up unless they really do something.  He thinks it’s important.  “Without clean lakes,  Madison is just another Midwest city.”

Steve grew up in Madison and loves to fish.  “When I was a kid, water-skied on Monona Bay.  Now, it’s so shallow with muck here--it’s only waist deep, far out in the bay.”

“Someone has to take responsibility because the bay’s a mess.  We have the Clean Water Act, which prohibits this kind of behavior.”

“With all this pollution coming down, how could they have followed the erosion control plan?  That’s a legal document, something they have to follow.  We can show--with photos-- repeated failures to follow the plan.”

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