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Viewpoint: Ensuring 3M settlement funds stay in our communities

Tony Jurgens

Last week, the State of Minnesota announced it had reached an $850 million settlement with 3M regarding water contaminated with perfluorocarbons (PFC) in the East Metro.

I'm happy this lawsuit has been settled and view it as good news for impacted communities, especially considering the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) told local lawmakers in a recent meeting that cities like Cottage Grove will be reimbursed for expenses it incurred related to the installation of water filtration systems resulting from groundwater contamination, as well as funding the planning and design of a permanent filtration system.

RELATED: Cottage Grove, Woodbury prepare for 3M settlement disbursements

Long-term, these dollars are to be used to "enhance the quality, quantity, and sustainability of drinking water in the East Metropolitan Area" as well as other projects relating to fishing and wildlife restoration and enhancement.

This significant revenue source will not be spent overnight, nor should it. Moving forward, we'll be working in bipartisan fashion to ensure that final spending decisions are not made by the MPCA and Department of Natural Resources alone. There needs to be a high level of participation between state agencies, the legislature, impacted communities and citizens to ensure the money is being spent appropriately — and most importantly — in our local communities.

The last thing we need is for 3M settlement dollars to be used for other projects. Back in the 1990's Minnesota reached an historic settlement with tobacco companies. In 2011, proceeds from that settlement were used to fill a state budget gap. It will be our goal to make sure every penny of the 3M settlement is dedicated to cleaning up water in our communities and not turned into a slush fund for other purposes or projects outside the contamination area.

To be clear, the details surrounding this settlement are very new and we have a lot to learn. This week, the Minnesota House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee has scheduled a hearing with the MPCA and the DNR to hear more about it. If we're not satisfied that these funds will be spent wisely in impacted areas or that additional safeguards are needed, we will look into potential legislation that assures the money will be used in our communities.

But for now, I encourage you to be involved. It is anticipated that the state agencies will have local meetings where you can make your voice heard, and there will be more legislative hearings in the future where you can share your stories. In the meantime, I will keep you updated on any news from the Minnesota House surrounding the 3M settlement in the weeks ahead.

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