Government, Health Care, and Law

Township votes to sue Wolverine Worldwide

February 27, 2018
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A township in the area plans to sue a neighboring maker of footwear and apparel.

The Plainfield Township board voted yesterday to file a motion to "intervene" in, or join, a federal suit against Rockford-based Wolverine Worldwide amid water contamination concerns in the Belmont area, according to a post yesterday by WOOD TV8.

The township wants to force the company to pipe municipal water to areas where residential wells have been contaminated, WOOD TV8 reports.

The township says in its resolution yesterday it "had hoped to be able to negotiate an agreement whereby Wolverine Worldwide would voluntarily pay” for the project. The project could cost up to $25 million, according to the station.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, or MDEQ, filed the suit in federal court on Jan. 10, alleging Wolverine Worldwide “improperly handled waste disposal,” which may have endangered human health. The lawsuit seeks force the company “to clean up the contamination and reimburse the state for costs associated with the environmental disaster.”

The Plainfield Township resolution says the MDEQ lawsuit does not adequately represent the township’s interests.

Wolverine's response

In a post on a Wolverine Worldwide blog before the meeting, the company says that "all options remain on the table" and its "commitment to being part of a long-term solution is apparent from its actions."

Part of the company's post is below:

“It is possible an expansion of the township’s municipal water system could be part of a comprehensive plan, along with other solutions used around the country, like drilling deeper wells and using filters similar to those Wolverine has already provided. Given this, we welcome the township’s input into our discussions with the state about long-term solutions.

"Due to the involvement of the state, and the process it has initiated, however, we are not in a position to move forward with separate, premature discussions with the township on its proposal to begin construction of a municipal water extension this summer. This would short-circuit the state’s involvement and our responsibility to them. It also would not be based on the right data, would not take into account the significant water solutions Wolverine has already implemented and would not involve the right parties.

"We’ve said from the start that we will see this issue through to the end, and we are committed to providing the residents of our community the confidence they deserve in their water. To accomplish this, we will continue our collaborative and expedited efforts to develop long-term water solutions for the community and, as appropriate, we welcome the township to participate in our discussions and actions with the state on this topic.”

Other litigation

The lawsuit is among others with similar concerns, including one filed by a national team of firms that alleges that Wolverine Worldwide and Waste Management participated in dumping waste containing per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, from 3M Corporation’s Scotchgard product at “more than 75 sites in Kent County.”

The lawsuit alleges that Wolverine and 3M were “aware of Scotchgard’s dangers to human health for decades but covered up the truth until unrelated groundwater testing revealed the contamination in the summer and fall of 2017."

As of Feb. 9, Varnum had filed 99 lawsuits against the company on behalf of Belmont area residents, according to a post yesterday by WZZM TV 13.

Update

Wolverine Worldwide provided a statement to the Business Journal on Tuesday afternoon.

"Wolverine Worldwide has been working with the state for nearly a year to gather the necessary data, involve the appropriate parties and identify and implement the right long-term solutions, as we work diligently to restore the community’s confidence in its water. ... We have not seen the township’s legal motion, so cannot comment directly on it."

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