FOX 11 Investigates uncovers environmental records for Ashland Ave. rail yard

Ashland Avenue Rail Yard, Green Bay (Photo: Mark Leland/WLUK)

GREEN BAY (WLUK) -- Green Bay city officials acknowledge land owned by Canadian National Railroad, but no longer in use, could be put to better use. The roughly 30-acre parcel no longer has any rail tracks, brings in no tax dollars, and divides up neighborhoods. Options for development are endless: commercial, residential, even parks.

What is not known about the property held by CN is what environmental hazards the railroad left behind.

Wisconsin Central Railroad owned the property for decades. CN purchased the rail yard in 2001. It was used as a facility to load and offload goods for distribution. A year after purchasing the rail yard, CN announced plans to shut the facility down. All the rail lines were cleared out by 2013.

FOX 11 Investigates questioned city development officials why the property has been ignored.

"I think we'll start being, like I said, a little more aggressive in the coming year of saying 'hey what might be some of the opportunities for redevelopment,'" said Kevin Vonck, Green Bay Economic Development Director.

One major concern for Vonck is what environmental concerns did decades of railroad use leave behind? And the costs needed to move forward.

"I think a lot that will drive it is what's the price of the land and is it worth the city's while to acquire it? But also doing some environmental work on it," said Vonck.

Canadian National declined to comment on environmental issues with the property. But FOX 11 Investigates uncovered Department of Natural Resources documents outlining five reported chemical spills or diesel fuel and hydraulic oil on the Ashland Avenue Rail Yard property. Three were relatively minor in scope and cleaned up. Two others required several years of monitoring. The DNR reports indicate "some contamination remains."

If the property can be acquired, Vonck says federal funds are available for environmental assessment and cleanup. The level of contamination could determine the land's best use.

"Do we start to look at residential and putting the neighborhood fabric back together? Or some type of park or recreational use in there?" said Vonck.

FOX 11 Investigates has also learned the city is looking into removing the Ashland Avenue viaduct since it is no longer needed. Repaving work on Ashland Avenue this year will stop just short of the bridge so tax dollars won't be wasted.

"We're not going to put money into a project we say in a few years, 'let's take it down,'" said Vonck.

Right now the former rail yard currently brings in zero tax dollars since railroad property is tax exempt -- despite the fact in this case it's not being used for anything.

Ald. Guy Zima represents the district where the rail yard is located.

"I'd like to see the city acquire it as some point in time if the price is right, if we can get the proper cleanup, and turn it back into perhaps residential, or if that's not plausible, some other activity that can be beneficial to the community," said Zima.

In fact FOX 11 Investigates has learned the Green Bay Parks Department has twice considered the land for possible athletic fields. Capping the soil with soccer fields or baseball diamonds would not necessarily require environmental cleanup.

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