GREEN BAY - There's still a chance cleanup of the Fox River will happen this year. Even though the debate continues over who should pay for it.
Thursday, a federal judge ruled to send a case involving the former owner of Appleton Papers to trial in December.
Last summer, both NCR and Appleton Papers halted PCB contamination cleanup, refusing to pay for the project.
State and federal officials are seeking to speed up the cleanup process, by having NCR resume dredging.
A judge ruled earlier this week Appleton Papers is no longer liable for the cleanup. But even with no decision, DNR officials say there's still hope.
And cleanup advocates say, something needs to get done.
Pending lawsuits continue to create road blocks in the cleanup of the Fox River.
"Safety has been ignored, public health has been sidelined," said Rebecca Katers, cleanup advocate.
Katers says she's not surprised the process has hit yet another snag. But she says something has to give.
"It's time to get back to what's the most important thing here, this is a regional toxic spill and it's been allowed to spread for 40 years," said Katers.
But NCR says until other companies are officially held accountable, it's not doing any more work.
In federal court Thursday, NCR attorneys argued many other paper companies are just as responsible.
An expert for Appleton Papers testified one of the main culprits is Georgia-Pacific.
"The report that we presented yesterday in court accurately reflects the evidence of who is discharging the PCBs into the river, where they reside and what it would cost to clean it up and therefore the evidence shows the responsible parities, and so they should be involved in the cleanup," said API spokesperson Katherine Querard in a phone interview.
But Georgia-Pacific officials question the evidence.
Public affairs manager Mike Kawleski says the company has done its part.
"It's important to have a good resource in the Fox River, that's why we've invested $90 million over the last 15 years for the Fox River cleanup," said Kawleski.
"It's better to do it now, to keep the cost down and to get the river cleaned up," said DNR project manager Beth Olson.
Despite the current setbacks, DNR officials remain hopeful work can still get done, even without a ruling from the judge.
"The dredges are ready to go, they're on the river," Olson said. "The waste water treatment plant is ready to go. They're hopeful for a contract and we're hopeful one or more companies will step forward and continue the progress this year."
Olson says the DNR has received interest from a couple companies so far, but would not disclose who.
The project is expected to be complete by 2017. It's estimated to cost around $1 billion.
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