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The Kenosha Engine Plant

View outside the Kenosha Engine Plant.

Contact information
For information on the Kenosha Engine Plant investigation, contact:
Dave Volkert
Remediation & Redevelopment Program

Kenosha Engine Plant investigation & cleanup Kenosha, Wisconsin

Site description

Site description & plant history

The City of Kenosha has a long history involving the automobile industry. The first mass assembly plant was built along Kenosha's shores in 1902 – a year ahead of Henry Ford's first factory – and for most of the 20th Century the city reveled in its car-building heyday. With the regional decline of car manufacturing starting in the late 1980s, this southeast Wisconsin community of 97,000 has worked hard the past two decades to revitalize those industrial properties once used for creating such automotive innovations as the steering wheel, seat belt and muscle car.

The former Chrysler Kenosha Engine Plant property is 107 acres in size and located at 5555 30th Avenue in the heart of the city. Approximately 3,700 residential-related properties – of which 2,400 are single-family homes – and eight schools located within one-half mile of the plant. Its general boundaries are:

  • 52nd Street to the north;
  • 60th Street to the south;
  • 24th Avenue to the east; and
  • 30th Avenue to the west.

Over the years, a series of mergers and buyouts changed the company name several times – Nash Motors, Nash-Kelvinator and American Motors are a few examples. Eventually the Chrysler Corporation bought the site, and in 1998 Chrysler itself was bought by DaimlerAG, which owned the site until 2007, when Cerberus Capital Management bought the company (see the Time Line tab for more information). The facility produced a number of famous vehicles and their parts, including Nash Ramblers, Dodge Diplomats and AMC engines used in Jeeps.

While the mass assembly portion of the automotive industry declined in southeast Wisconsin in the late 20th and early 21st Century, the Kenosha Engine Plant actually saw brief periods of success. While Chrysler closed the Kenosha assembly and stamping plants in 1988, they kept the engine plant open. In July 2002, Chrysler dedicated a 500,000 square-foot expansion to launch a new 3.5-liter V6 engine used in the Chrysler Pacifica. The launch marked the completion of a three-year expansion at the plant priced at $624 million. However, that growth was short-lived and, when the recession hit in 2007-2009, the plant became another industrial casualty after Chrysler declared bankruptcy. The engine plant shut down in the fall of 2010.

Chrysler bankruptcy

Since 2008, the DNR has worked with the Wisconsin Department of Justice and other local, state and federal agencies to focus on cost recovery efforts through bankruptcy. The DNR has monitored bankruptcy filings in Wisconsin and pursued actions on sites that have documented or perceived contamination. These actions – which include filing "proofs of claim" in bankruptcy court and negotiating settlements with companies that close facilities with contamination – will help save taxpayer money and fulfill DNR's responsibility to protect human health and the environment.

This effort included the Kenosha Engine Plant. In October 2009, DNR filed a proof of claim of $36 million for the plant. Of the $15 million available nationally for Chrysler's environmental issues, the court awarded $10 million to Wisconsin if the property remained unsold.

The Old Carco Liquidation Trust (Old Carco) was the bankruptcy liquidation trust who owned the Kenosha Engine Plant after the Chrysler bankruptcy. Old Carco was unable to sell the plant and abandoned the property in February 2014. Under an agreement through the bankruptcy court, the city of Kenosha acquired the Kenosha Engine Plant property after it was abandoned and plans to use the $10 million awarded through the bankruptcy court for environmental cleanup.

The DNR is working with the city of Kenosha and the city's partners – the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), the U.S. EPA and the Kenosha County Health Department. The partners have identified the Kenosha Engine Plant for environmental assessment and cleanup. Potential contamination issues associated with the plant may be similar to other contamination found at former automobile properties in Kenosha, properties that were eventually cleaned up and redeveloped.

To learn more about the site history at the Kenosha Engine Plant, please see the Time Line tab.

Environmental history

Environmental history

Prior to declaring bankruptcy, the Chrysler Corporation conducted a number of investigative and clean-up actions often associated with the development of new buildings on the site. However, since the 1990s there has not been a comprehensive investigation of the entire property. An engineered system is currently in place at the site that captures contaminated groundwater and treats the water on the property. The DNR required the Old Carco Liquidation Trust (Old Carco) to upgrade and continue to monitor the groundwater containment system when Old Carco acquired the property.

To date the type of soil and groundwater contamination found on site includes:

  • petroleum;
  • chlorinated solvents, including trichloroethene, benzene and toluene;
  • hydraulic fluid; and
  • metals, including lead, chromium and zinc.

Because the degree and extent of contamination that exists at the Kenosha Engine Plant property was unknown at the time of bankruptcy and is still unknown, the DNR worked with the city, DHS and EPA to assess the level of contamination in and around the property. In 2010 and 2011, the EPA conducted a soil vapor study around the property to determine if contaminant vapors in the soil and groundwater at the plant were posing a vapor intrusion risk to the neighboring properties. The EPA's study determined that the adjacent properties were not at risk from contaminant vapors that originated on the Kenosha Engine Plant property.

Prior to the abandonment of the plant by Old Carco, the city of Kenosha began a subsurface investigation of the property using funding provided by DNR and EPA. The city also removed the remaining underground storage tanks and contaminated soil around the tanks.

The city of Kenosha has devised a contamination investigation plan, which has been approved by DNR. Now that Old Carco has abandoned the Kenosha Engine Plant, the city will commence with investigation.

An interim remedial action plan has been approved by DNR to remove contaminated soil in isolated areas where floating petroleum product is present on the groundwater surface at the site. It was determined that it was more cost effective to remove the contaminated soil rather that remove the floating petroleum product by other means. This interim remedial action is an early step in cleaning up the contamination on the property.

Once the scope of contamination is known, DNR will work with the its governmental partners to develop a more comprehensive plan for cleanup. While the long-term clean-up of the groundwater at the site could take years, the reuse of the property for industrial or other commercial uses could be accomplished much earlier.

Health information

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) [exit DNR] provides health consultations and information about environmental and public health impacts from exposure to certain toxic chemicals.

Tracking cleanup activities: DNR's online database

To find out more information about the Kenosha Engine Plant, visit the Contaminated Lands Environmental Action Network (CLEAN), the DNR's database of contaminated properties.


Environmental liability

In Wisconsin, anyone who possesses or controls a hazardous substance or who causes the discharge of a hazardous substance is a "responsible party" under sections 292.11 and 292.31, Wis. Stats., and Chapters NR 700 to 754, Wis. Adm. Code.

However, state statutes provide certain liability exemptions for local government units and for lenders. Others, including private parties and future owners of a property, may qualify for liability exemptions through the state, or may obtain a fee-based liability clarification letter from the DNR regarding property contamination issues.

For more information, please visit our Environmental liability page.

Time line

Kenosha Engine Plant: History & time line

Sources: Wisconsin DNR; "Time line – Kenosha, Wisconsin in Auto History," October 11, 2009, Reuters, Bernie Woodall and Martin Golan; also see "Kenosha - A History of Our Town," by Don Jensen.

1900 - Thomas Jeffrey, a bicycle maker from Chicago, buys a factory from the Sterling Bicycle Company. He sees little future in making bicycles and decides to act on his automobile design experiments.

1902 – Jeffrey produces the Rambler, the second mass-assembly auto made, a year after Oldsmobile and a year ahead of Ford. Sales in 1902 were 1,500 vehicles, a sixth of the automobiles sold in the United States.

1916 – The head of General Motors, Charles Nash, buys the company for $5 million and renames it Nash Motors.

1917 – Kenosha engine plant begins production.

1937 – Nash Motors mergers with appliance producer Kelvinator.

1954 – Nash-Kelvinator merges with Hudson Motor Company and creates American Motors Corp (AMC).

1960s – AMC is at its height in terms of production, making about one-half million cars per year, employing approximately 16,000 workers. Market share never reaches company goal of 3.7 percent of the U.S. market.

1969 – AMC buys Jeep Corp from Kaiser Motors.

1970 – AMC introduces the Gremlin, billed as the first U.S.-made subcompact.

1970s – Profits reach $44.5 million in 1973, the best since 1960. However, a costly three-week strike in 1974 pushes AMC toward lost revenue in 1975, a year when the U.S. auto industry as a whole experienced record profits.

1979 – French automaker Renault bails out the sagging AMC and takes over much of the management of AMC.

1983 – The Renault Alliance made at the two Kenosha auto assembly plants wins the "Car of the Year" award – within two years the model is panned by consumers and critics as among the worst performing vehicles around.

1987 – Chrysler, led by CEO Lee Iacocca, buys AMC, bailing out Renault. Iacocca announces the shutdown of auto assembly in Kenosha.

1988 – Automobile assembly in Kenosha ends after almost 90 years. The lakeside assembly plant shuts entirely, however engine production continues at the Kenosha Engine Plant, located one mile inland.

1989-2009 – The Kenosha Engine Plant continues to make engines for Chrysler, but activity dwindles.

1998 – Germany's Daimler-Benz and Chrysler merge to form DaimlerChrysler AG.

2007 – Daimler AG and Chrysler go their separate ways. Daimler agrees to sell 80.1 percent of Chrysler to private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, which brings in new management.

2009 – Chrysler files for bankruptcy protection, and announces plant closings that include Kenosha. Italy's Fiat SpA takes over management control of Chrysler as it emerges as a new company – Chrysler Group LLC. The Kenosha plant remains owned by the former Chrysler, known as "OldCarco."

2009 – Kenosha city officials, Wisconsin state officials and union leaders piece together a task force to keep manufacturing in town. The group seeks to raise up to $30 million in federal and state funds to clean up the Kenosha plant.

2010 – In October, the Kenosha Engine Plant was permanently closed.

2010 - 2011 – Kenosha city officials work with the DNR, Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), Kenosha County Health Department and EPA to assess environmental issues at the Kenosha Engine Plant.

2011 – The Old Carco Liquidation Trust upgrades groundwater containment systems at the Kenosha Engine Plant as required by DNR.

2012 - 2013 – The Old Carco Liquidation Trust has demolition contractor raze all of the buildings at the Kenosha Engine Plant. The DNR requires that the concrete slabs must remain in place to prevent precipitation infiltration and potential migration of groundwater contamination plumes at site.

2014 – Under the Bankruptcy Agreement, the city of Kenosha acquires the property after Old Carco Liquidation Trust abandons the property in February. The trust transfers $10M in funds to an escrow account to be used by the State and city to undertake the environmental activities at the property.


Frequently asked questions

Where is the Kenosha Engine Plant located?

The plant is located between 52nd and 60th streets (north and south) and between 24th and 30th avenues (east and west) in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

How big is the Kenosha Engine Plant?

The property encompasses 107 acres. The total square footage of buildings on the site is estimated at 1.87 million square feet.

Why do we need to do an environmental investigation at the Kenosha Engine Plant?

Over time, hazardous substances have been released to the soil and groundwater at the plant and could potentially pose a risk to human health and the environment. While some investigative work and cleanup has occurred, additional work is needed.

What kind of contamination could be at the Kenosha Engine Plant and adjacent industrial properties?

Contamination present at and around the property includes soil and groundwater contamination from releases of petroleum products, solvents, paints and other hazardous materials used in the production of automobiles.

What types of environmental and health impacts could occur at the Kenosha Engine Plant?

Hazardous substances in the soil could potentially pose a direct contact threat to human health or to the environment. The materials have contaminated the soil and groundwater, and could potentially migrate off the property via utility corridors – such as an underground gas or sewer line – or via groundwater as it naturally moves underground. In addition, hazardous materials that are volatile could potentially migrate as vapors out of the groundwater and move toward the surface, posing an inhalation risk.

If there are environmental or health impacts at the Kenosha Engine Plant, how will they be addressed?

There is an operating groundwater "pump and treat" or containment system to clean up known areas of groundwater contamination at the plant. The system's historic use was to prevent the impacted groundwater from migrating off the site. As a result of the Chrysler bankruptcy proceedings, the city owns the property and is voluntarily conducting the investigation and cleanup of the hazardous substance discharges from the plant.

EPA has sampled soil gas around the plant and the city has conducted groundwater sampling around the perimeter of parts of the property. The results of this sampling determined that there were no environmental or health concerns found to be present in the areas surrounding the Kenosha Engine Plant.

Who is paying for the assessment work at the Kenosha Engine Plant?

The city of Kenosha has received grants from EPA and the DNR to conduct additional assessment work. Further, the Trust transferred $10M in clean-up funds to an escrow account for the state and city to use in dealing with the environmental issues at the property.

If there is a cleanup, how much would cleanup activities cost at the Kenosha Engine Plant and who will pay for it?

The DNR and city estimate, based on other similar properties, that the cost may range from $30-40 million for assessment, cleanup and monitoring costs. However, clean-up costs at brownfield sites vary greatly. In addition, until the degree and extent of contamination is known at a specific property, it is difficult to gauge the exact environmental work needed.

Some investigation and cleanup costs have been paid by Chrysler and the Old Carco Liquidation Trust. Current investigation costs are being covered by state, city and federal funding. The city with DNR and EPA oversight will be able to use the $10 million acquired from the bankruptcy court, after Old Carco Liquidation Trust abandoned the property, for environmental cleanup.

Once the site cleanup is completed, what will happen to the site?

Kenosha city officials will work with community leaders and residents to create redevelopment plans for the neighborhood where the Kenosha Engine Plant is located. In some cases, reuse of the property may safely take place prior to the final cleanup approval by DNR.


Wisconsin DNR

  • Cleanup Project Manager – Dave Volkert, 262-574-2166
  • Liability & Financial Assistance – Darsi Foss, 608-267-6713

Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), Environmental Health Resources

The DHS is involved with many contaminated sites where immediate or long-term health concerns may exist.

City of Kenosha

Kenosha County

U.S. EPA Region 5 Emergency Response & Removal

The EPA's Superfund Emergency Response Program provides quick responses to immediate threats from hazardous substances. The program's first priority is to eliminate dangers to the public and make sites safe for those who live or work nearby.

Last revised: Thursday September 10 2015