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Green Bay Coal Piles’ Days May Be Numbered As County Announces Plans To Buy Land

State Awarded Brown County A $500K Grant To Help With Purchase

Fox river
Ken Lund (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The coal piles that grace Green Bay’s riverfront may soon be gone.

Brown County officials announced they’ve entered a memorandum of understanding with Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) to purchase a decommissioned power plant on the mouth of the Fox River. The land includes the spot where the coal piles could sit.

At a news conference Tuesday, officials declined to discuss the purchase price or the size of the parcel they plan to buy, citing a nondisclosure agreement. But Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach said the plan will go before the county’s Board of Supervisors for final approval on Jan. 20. The county plans to turn the site into a working port, he said.

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According Streckenbach, the city, county and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay created a strategic plan more than 10 years ago to help grow the Port of Green Bay and the regional economy.

“Brown County, the Port of Green Bay was very interested in this site, primarily for the purpose of growth, protecting our industries that serve northeast Wisconsin’s economy,” he said.

If all goes to plan, it could take about five years to complete remediation, dredging and build out for the port, Streckenbach said. Buying the land is the first step of a long process, but it’s an important one, officials said.

In 2016, WPS announced the Pulliam Power Plant would be decommissioned as part of a campaign to lower greenhouse gas emissions in the state, utility President Tom Metcalfe said. The utility is excited the site will have a new lease on life, he said.

C. Reiss Coal Company owns the coal currently located along the Fox River. Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich said the city has been in talks with the company for years to discuss its relocation. He expects those will “heat up” once the county acquires the land, he said.

While he believes part of the property should be designated for mix use, Genrich said it’s important for the port to grow.

“This is a working river, and we want to make sure that that property continues to be used for that purpose but not in a way that’s a nuisance for the community,” he said.

On Monday, Gov. Tony Evers announced Brown County would receive a $500,000 Idle Sites Redevelopment grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC) to help cover the purchase. WPS owns hundreds of acres in the area, but a news release from the WEDC said the grant will assist the county in purchasing a 40-acre parcel.

“There has not been a port expansion of this magnitude in well over two generations. I am confident that this investment will be returned to taxpayers many times over in increased port activity,” state Sen. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, said in a statement.

In 2019, Wisconsin’s Assembly passed a bill, introduced by state Rep. David Steffen, R-Green Bay, that would award the city of Green Bay a harbor assistance grant of up to $1.5 million to assist with the project. The bill was never scheduled for a vote in the Senate.

Nearly 2,500 people have signed an online petition to Evers and the state Legislature to have the coal piles relocated. Community members commented on the possible economic, environmental and health benefits of moving the coal.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify where the coal could be relocated.