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3M settlement money earmarked for water improvements

Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr, Attorney General Lori Swanson, and Pollution Control Agency Commissioner John Linc Stine discussed the uses of the $850 million settlement between the state and 3M Feb. 21. Katie Nelson / RiverTown Multimedia

Nearly 24 hours after Attorney General Lori Swanson and 3M Corp. settled their lawsuit for $850 million, Swanson, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources are planning where to allocate the funds.

The lawsuit originally filed in December 2010 was settled between the Attorney General and 3M representatives early Tuesday morning, just before the trial was set to start.

The settlement order allows funds to be allocated to three main areas: improvements to water quality and sustainability, restoring the area's natural resources and for statewide water remediation or further recreation projects. The second two will only be done if the first priority has been achieved, according to the order.

"It will be spent first and foremost fixing the drinking water problems in the east metropolitan area," Swanson said. "It will also be used to enhance water sustainability, there's a supply problem."

The settlement money will be disbursed to the state in a grant from 3M by March 7, that will be overseen the MPCA and the DNR as trustees. Swanson said the settlement agreement was set up so that the stakeholders would be able to use the funds and the Legislature would not have access to it, though Gov. Mark Dayton hinted Wednesday that he expects legislators to get involved.

"Keeping the Legislature's hands off a pot of money — history speaks for itself," he said.

The settlement agreement states that Washington County communities are the first priority for funding, though is not limited to them.

A working group comprised of representatives from east metro communities, the MPCA, DNR and 3M will start forming over the next couple of weeks, MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine said, to decide where the funds should be directed. The group should be starting to meet by spring.

"We administer the funds, and we will be taking advice from this working group before we allocate any funds," he said.

The city of Cottage Grove — which was deeply affected by PFCs in municipal water when the Minnesota Department of Health lowered its recommended health-based values last May causing several of their wells to be above the recommendation — is hoping to receive money for one or more water treatment facilities from the settlement.

Swanson said they will also direct funds to the 650 homeowners in east metro whose private wells are polluted by the PFCs.

Settlement funds allocated to the DNR will be used to restore natural resources, including for birds, fish and other wildlife that have bioaccumulated PFCs in their bodies, DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said.

"(Wildlife) start to raise the concentration in their own body with those PFCs, and multiple health concerns for fish and wildlife in those cases, it has an effect on immunity, it has an effect on longevity, it has an effect on reproductive capabilities," he said.

Health department

On Feb. 7, just days before trial was set to start, the MDH released an analysis that said there were no higher instances of cancer or babies born premature and with low birth weights in the east metro than the rest of the metro. The analysis was in direct opposition with a study Swanson's expert witness has done, which showed higher rates in Oakdale.

With questions swirling about the health department's release of an analysis of cancer and low weight births in the east metro just days before the trial was set to start, Swanson emphasized that the settlement and the lawsuit concerned the natural resources and not cases of health or home.

"This was a natural resources damages case, meaning the lawsuit's aim was to fix the natural resources, so monies can be used for conservation projects...," Swanson said. "This was not a case for personal injury, we don't have authority to bring a personal injury case on behalf of the people of Minnesota, and also we don't have the authority to bring a case directly for the people to get back the diminution in their home values." A statement released by the Attorney General's Office Tuesday said the MDH "tried to blindside the State's lawsuit" just before the trial.

"It did not help the case," she said Tuesday.

Swanson said members of the MDH gave a deposition leading up to the trial that is currently confidential, and that she will have "more to say" on that later.

Gov. Mark Dayton praised Attorney General Lori Swanson for her work on the 3M case, but on Wednesday also defended his order to the MDH to release a report about cancer cases in the eastern Twin Cities before the trial began. "I gave them another week to bring it together," he said about when he learned that the department was preparing the report. He added: "They needed a deadline. They were, in my judgement, floundering." The information may have hurt the state's case against 3M because it did not prove that the company's chemical dumping caused cancer. MDH representatives could not immediately be reached for comment on this story.

Forum News Service reporter Don Davis contributed to this story.