On Feb. 20, 2018, the state of Minnesota settled its lawsuit against the 3M Company in return for a grant of $850 million. Minnesota’s attorney general sued 3M in 2010 alleging that the company’s production of chemicals known as PFCs had damaged drinking water and natural resources in the southeast Twin Cities metro area. After legal and other expenses are paid, about $720 million will be invested in drinking water and natural resource projects in the Twin Cities east metropolitan region.
How the grant will be used
The court-approved agreement settling the lawsuit specifies how the grant from 3M can be spent by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Minnesota Department of Natural resources (DNR). It sets two top priorities for funding and provides guidelines for using any remaining money after those two issues are adequately addressed. It also directs the MPCA and DNR to set up a working group to guide use of the funds.
Priority one — Ensure safe drinking water
With PFCs having contaminated domestic water supplies in a number of southeast metro communities, the top priority for grant funds will be projects aimed at providing a clean, sustainable supply of drinking water in the area. These projects will be primarily focused on the cities of Afton, Cottage Grove, Lake Elmo, Newport, Oakdale, St. Paul Park, Woodbury and the townships of Grey Cloud Island and West Lakeland. Projects in other communities may also be considered.
Funded projects will help provide residents and businesses with enough clean drinking water to meet current and future needs. Such efforts could include providing alternative sources of drinking water for cities or private well owners, treating drinking water from existing wells, or connecting homes served by private wells to municipal drinking water systems.
Grant funds also could support efforts to assure a sustainable supply of drinking water, with projects such as promoting water conservation or acquiring open spaces that help recharge drinking water sources more quickly.
Priority two — Enhance natural resources
The second priority for grant spending is to enhance aquatic resources, wildlife habitat, and outdoor recreational opportunities in the east metropolitan area, or downstream of the area on the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers. Such projects might include restoring and protecting fish and wildlife habitat, building boat ramps and fishing piers to provide access to fish unaffected by PFC contamination, or cleaning up contaminated river sediments.
The MPCA and DNR will have immediate access to $20 million in grant funds for projects in this priority category. After the safe drinking water goals of the first priority are reasonably achieved, more grant money can be used for natural resource projects.
Remaining grant funds
If funds remain after the first two priority goals have been met, they can be used for statewide environmental projects. Only projects that benefit statewide water resources, habitat restoration, open space preservation, recreation improvements, or other sustainability projects would be considered.
- Continue to ensure all interim safe drinking water needs are met.
- Identify potential water quality and natural resource projects through a series of public open houses and working groups. The first steps in this process include:
- Spring 2018 — Host open houses/listening sessions in the east metro area
- Spring/Summer 2018 — Establish one or more working groups to help identify possible projects and prioritize funding. Groups will include representatives of east metro communities, 3M, and the state of Minnesota
- Determine a schedule for reporting progress on investing funds in clean water and natural resource projects (MPCA, DNR).
Recent settlement agreement and 2007 Consent Order
A 2007 Consent Order between the MPCA and 3M spelled out what activities 3M is required to pay for related to PFC contamination. The 2007 Consent Order remains in place, and the recent settlement agreement outlines how the grant will work in conjunction with the 2007 Consent Order.
Under the terms of the 2007 Consent Order, 3M will pay up to $40 million for the short-term drinking water needs out of its own funds on a reimbursable basis. This includes expenses such as providing bottled water and installing temporary in-home water filtering systems to residents with PFC-contaminated wells. The company will also pay for the operation and maintenance of temporary municipal drinking water treatment systems, such as those recently installed to treat wells in Cottage Grove. These dollars are intended to be used as a bridge to the long-term solutions funded under priority one.
Once the five years are over or $40 million is spent, any remaining short-term drinking water expenses will be covered by the 2018 settlement grant, if grant funds remain available. After the grant funds are gone, 3M continues to be subject to the 2007 Consent Order requirements to to cover all drinking water expenses due to the contamination.
3M will also continue to pay remediation costs under the 2007 Consent Order at the three Washington County disposal sites for which the company has assumed responsibility:
- 3M Cottage Grove facility
- 3M Oakdale disposal site
- 3M Woodbury disposal site
Kirk Koudelka, MPCA Assistant Commissioner
Barb Naramore, DNR Assistant Commissioner