GREEN BAY, Wis.— Coal piles along the Fox River in Green Bay have long been a topic of conversation and concern for nearby residents.

“There’s coal dust in the air, coal dust on our home, there is coal dust on my car. I can wipe my finger on my car and I have coal dust on it every summer,” said Emilie Heil, who lives near the piles and is a board member of the Astor neighborhood association. “People are breathing that in and I think that’s a pretty valid concern.”

But a partnership between Brown County, Green Bay, the state and Wisconsin Public Service may have found a solution.

The county has agreed to buy a parcel of land at the mouth of the Fox River that once was home to the Pulliam Power Plant operated by Wisconsin Public Service. If approved, that deal gives the city and county a location where the coal piles could be relocated.

“This is a huge thing for the city of Green Bay and it opens the door for us in relocating our coal piles out of downtown and to an exclusively industrial area,” said Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich. 

The proposed purchase is about more than just the piles. Brown County executive Troy Streckenbach says it’s also about growing port — and economic — activity in both the region and the state.

“There’s a lot of interest in this site,” he said. “What we’re trying o do is make sure the highest and best use for that site is going to be met.” 

The location of the WPS property is ideal for shipping, said Dean Head, who heads up the county’s port and resource recovery. The area could be developed to further expand the types of businesses the port supports.

“It could be a variety of cargoes,” he said. “We could get into containers. It could be wind components. It could be fertilizer. It could be shipbuilding. There’s a lot of variety.”

The price of the acquisition was not disclosed and the proposed deal is expected to be brought to the Brown County board for approval later this month.

The possibility of moving the piles is welcome news to not only city and county officials, but residents like Heil.

“I do feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel now, which is exciting for all of the residents in Green Bay, really,” she said. 

Genrich said the property where the coal piles are currently located could be redeveloped for light industrial and other uses.

Future plans are being discussed in terms of years before they come to full fruition.