Townships: Wolverine won’t pay for water hookups in PFAS areas

Toxic Tap Water

PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Leaders of Plainfield and Algoma townships say Wolverine Worldwide has halted plans to help them extend city water to residents whose wells were contaminated by PFAS traced to the footwear company’s former dump sites.

An attorney for both townships says after about a year of supporting plans to hook up water to homes affected by PFAS contamination from the House Street dump and Wellington Ridge area, Wolverine Worldwide now says it won’t help until 3M also pitches in.

Township attorney Doug Van Essen said Wolverine Worldwide was beginning negotiations to finance the projects when it added this “new condition.” Van Essen said Wolverine Worldwide never mentioned 3M in previous talks.

However in a statement sent to Target 8, Wolverine Worldwide said “any suggestion that Wolverine is unwilling to negotiate, has stepped away from the table, or has recently changed its position is simply untrue.”

The company said on Feb. 23, it sent a letter to Van Essen, stating, “We wholeheartedly agree with the Township that many parties contributed to the water quality issues facing our community, and believe that any long-term solution must involve all those parties.”

While 3M manufactured Scotchgard containing PFAS at one time, Van Essen pointed out 3M did not generate the waste and did not dump it, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality lawsuit filed in January over dumping only named Wolverine Worldwide.

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“Residents have been counting on Wolverine to keep its word and extend municipal water to those wells that have been contaminated by PFAS used in their manufacturing operations. The company has been promising they will do everything they can to find a long-term solution to the environmental mess that they created. And now Wolverine is walking away from that commitment,” said Algoma Township Supervisor Kevin Green.

The water extension would have cost about $30 million and reached 500 homes, at no cost to the homeowners. That’s approximately $60,000 per home.

Plainfield Township Superintendent Cameron Van Wyngarden said many township employees and contractors have worked extra hours away from their families to make the infrastructure plan possible. They had hoped to strike an agreement this month so they could start construction in 2019, but now that doesn’t seem likely.

“The only delay was Wolverine. And now we’re going to miss 2019. And we are beyond frustrated with Wolverine. This has been irresponsible. While we were working hard, executives at Wolverine have been cowering in the corner, hoping that this would go away,” said Wyngarden. “This is just appalling.”

“Clearly we were wrong to trust Wolverine to do the right thing on their own,” he added.

“The need is urgent. And for Wolverine to walk away now and unnecessarily delay this project is truly beyond comprehension,” added Green.

For residents like Terry Hula, who lives next to Wolverine’s old House Street dump, the need is especially urgent.

The state recently installed a 1,550-gallon water tank next to her home after her PFAS-tainted well failed.

“We come out at night and measure to make sure we have enough water to get us through the week,” she said.

On Tuesday, the water was running low as she waited for Wolverine to refill the tank.

“I can’t hear that,” Hula said when told the work on extending city water wouldn’t start next spring. “I cannot hear that they’re not going to put in municipal water. It has to happen. That’s our solution, that’s our only solution.”

“I don’t know who’s responsibility it will be in the long-run to get municipal water in, but somebody needs to step up,” she said.

>>App users: Listen to the PFAS update from township officials here.

Township leaders are also concerned about a bill being considered by the lame duck Legislature regarding PFAS.

“Our fear is that Wolverine is hoping that the state of Michigan through the Legislature and potentially Gov. Snyder’s execution of bill, a bill that might pass the House and Senate this year, would deregulate state control over PFAS. This would be the equivalent of responding to the Flint crisis by deregulating lead,” explained Van Essen.

They’re urging lawmakers and Gov. Snyder to reject the measure.

Since Wolverine Worldwide will not voluntarily help, Van Wyngarden said the townships will now look at all their tools possible to hold the company accountable for the PFAS contamination cleanup in northern Kent County.

“We will proceed aggressively with our state partners to try to hold Wolverine accountable and force in 2018 a judgment against Wolverine to compel it to extend water to those area of the township that are affected,” Van Essen said.

Van Essen said Wolverine must answer the state and Plainfield Township’s complaint by Dec. 21.

Full statement from Wolverine Worldwide:

“Wolverine Worldwide remains at the table and is committed to discussing water quality solutions with Plainfield Township, Algoma Township, and the State. This is a position we have held since day one, and any suggestion that Wolverine is unwilling to negotiate, has stepped away from the table, or has recently changed its position is simply untrue.

“From the beginning, we have said that multiple parties contributed to the water quality issues in our community, and any solution must include all relevant parties. We made this position clear in a Feb. 23, 2018 letter to the Township saying, ‘We wholeheartedly agree with the Township that many parties contributed to the water quality issues facing our community, and believe that any long-term solution must involve all those parties.’

“Wolverine has been fully engaged in negotiations with the State of Michigan, Plainfield Township, Algoma Township, and other parties on a regular basis and remains committed to the process. At the same time, we remain committed to the community, and continue to provide proven, highly effective filters and drinking water while conducting groundwater sampling, analysis, and investigation.”

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