Government, Law, and Manufacturing

Townships reach tentative $69.5M settlement with Wolverine

December 11, 2019
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Pollution Rockford
The tannery site began leather tanning operations in 1908 but didn’t use the Scotchgard products for waterproofing there until the late 1950s and early ’60s. Photo by Michael Buck

Plainfield and Algoma townships have reached a tentative $69.5 million settlement in the ongoing litigation brought by the state of Michigan against Wolverine Worldwide over its contamination of groundwater with PFAS chemicals.

The sum, tentatively agreed upon by the Rockford-based footwear maker, the state of Michigan and Plainfield and Algoma townships, will fund the extension of Plainfield Township’s municipal water system to more than 1,000 properties in both townships, as well as provide some funding for granular activated carbon, or GAC, filtering system for the Plainfield Township municipal water plant.

Under the tentative agreement, Wolverine will pay all hookup and connection fees for homeowners whose private drinking wells are in the areas to be served by the new municipal lines. For certain homeowners not receiving municipal water, Wolverine will continue maintaining the water filters it has installed where the level of PFOA and PFOS is over 10 parts per trillion, or ppt.

The townships expect work will begin in spring 2020 and take at least five years to extend municipal water to all affected homeowners. Neighborhoods with the highest levels of contamination will be prioritized, but some homes with little to no contamination may be connected before others based on the most efficient construction of the new water mains.

In a joint statement, Cameron Van Wyngarden, Plainfield Township manager, and Kevin Green, Algoma Township supervisor, said “all parties have been working on this complicated settlement for a long time, and we appreciate the patience of residents who have been waiting more than two years for a resolution.”

They added: “Plainfield has already invested in developing plans for water main extensions and, assuming the settlement is finalized, will be ready to bid the projects after the first of the year so we can begin construction in 2020. … We also appreciate being able to reach a solution without having to go to trial, which will save taxpayers the time, and the uncertainties and expense of litigation.”

Blake Krueger, president, CEO and chair of Wolverine Worldwide, said the agreement is in keeping with Wolverine’s ongoing efforts to ensure long-term water quality for the community and continue environmental remediation in and around its hometown.

“Wolverine Worldwide has been part of this community for almost 140 years, and we are committed to being part of water quality solutions for our friends, families and neighbors in the years to come,” he said.

“That’s why we took fast, proactive steps from the very beginning, and that’s also why we are taking the additional steps being announced today to fund the extension of municipal water to more than 1,000 properties and continue our environmental remediation efforts.”

All parties signed a term sheet that provides for an agreement in principle. It still is contingent on final preparation and approval of a detailed settlement agreement and the approval and signature of Judge Janet T. Neff of the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Michigan. This finalization is expected in the next several weeks, at which time, all settlement terms will become final and public.

Over the past two years, Plainfield Township invested more than $500,000 to work with the engineering firm Prein & Newhof to develop a detailed plan to extend municipal water. The advance planning will enable the township to send out construction bids in the first quarter of 2020 and begin work in the spring.

Once finalized, the settlement will end the legal dispute between all parties.

Plainfield and Algoma townships entered the federal lawsuit in March 2018. Concerns with PFAS first surfaced broadly in August 2017 as citizens began identifying sites in Plainfield and Algoma townships where Wolverine’s tannery waste may have been deposited.

PFAS refers to a family of long-lasting chemicals used by Wolverine to waterproof its boots and shoes that have been linked to certain types of cancers and other health issues.

Wolverine voluntarily supplied more than 500 whole-house filters and more than 200 point-of-use filters to residents with high concentrations of PFAS in their well water. The settlement agreement assures Wolverine will continue to maintain these whole house filters until homeowners with property in the settlement area can be connected to municipal water.

A map of properties in the settlement agreement, along with answers to frequently asked questions, is available at plainfieldmi.org.

Additional details of the settlement, including remediation plans for Wolverine’s former tannery site, can be found at wearewolverine.com.

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