A tentative $69.5 million settlement has been reached in ongoing litigation brought by the state of Michigan against Wolverine Worldwide for its contamination of groundwater with per- and polyflouroalkyl, also known as PFAS.
The townships of Plainfield and Algoma announced the tentative agreement Tuesday, which will ensure the Rockford-based shoemaker will pay the settlement to extend the Plainfield Township municipal water system to affected homes.
The lawsuit was filed nearly two years ago, in January of 2018.
The PFAS contaminants were discovered in the water supply in 2017, with hot spots in Plainfield and Algoma townships. Areas with high levels of chemical contaminants were near a former dumpsite that Wolverine Worldwide used in the 1960s, which is now referred to as the House Street disposal site.
The settlement will extend the municipal water system to 1,000 homes in both townships, and it will provide funding for granular activated carbon for the filtering system at the plant.
The townships expect work to begin in spring 2020 and it will take at least five years to extend the water supply to all affected homeowners. Areas with the highest levels of contamination will be prioritized first.
Affected homeowners like Sandy Wynn-Stelt say it's about time.
"For me it was inevitable. I'm not sure what took two and a half years to figure this out," she said. "None of us moved up here because we wanted to have a water bill or because we wanted municipal water. I think a lot of people move up here because they didn't want that stuff. But that being said, we also didn't want to have our water contaminated or have whole home filters. But out of those options I think municipal water is the best most logical option."
The Plainfield Township Water Department will send homeowners letters over the next several months with more information about the construction and when it will occur in their area.
In a joint statement, Plainfield Township Manager Cameron Van Wyngarden and Algoma Township Supervisor Kevin Green shared: “All parties have been working on this complicated settlement for a long time, and we appreciate the patience of residents who have been waiting more than two years for a resolution.
“Plainfield has already invested in developing plans for water main extensions and, assuming the settlement is finalized, will be ready to bid the projects after the first of the year so we can begin construction in 2020. We will be addressing priority areas first for those who have been most impacted in both townships.
“We also appreciate being able to reach a solution without having to go to trial, which will save taxpayers the time, and the uncertainties and expense of litigation.”
The settlement is still tentative, pending the final preparation and approval of the agreement and the approval and signature of Judge Janet T. Neff off the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Michigan.
"Wolverine Worldwide has been a part of this community for almost 140 years, and we are committed to being a part of water quality solutions for our friends, families, and neighbors in the years to come," said Blake W. Krueger the CEO and President of Wolverine Worldwide.
The company is already working to clean up the House Street disposal area, following direction from the Environmental Protection Agency. The settlement announced Tuesday will also outline Wolverine Worldwide's ongoing responsibilities for addressing PFAS in the groundwater, which are being overseen by the state.
The company is responsible for excavating the soil at the dumpsite and dredging the Rogue River. Last month, soil being excavated at the dumpsite was blue.
“I am pleased to see progress toward getting relief for the residents and the environment in North Kent County,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. “PFAS contamination is a serious environmental problem that demands action, and I am proud that Michigan is leading the nation in efforts to combat PFAS contamination. Reaching a tentative agreement with Wolverine is an important step that moves us closer to our ultimate goal of ensuring that every Michigan resident has access to clean, safe drinking water.”
PFAS contaminants are an emerging environmental concern. They are compounds that are used by industries such as tanneries, metal platers and clothing manufacturers. The discovery of PFAS contamination is a growing trend across the country.
The discovery of PFAS contamination at the House Street disposal site kicked off a statewide initiative investigation into community, school, child care and tribal water supplies.
The $1.7 million study found that 90% of water supplies across the state showed no detection of PFAS. However, only the city of Parchment and Robinson Elementary School near Grand Haven had test results exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's lifetime advisory of 70 parts per trillion (ppt).
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