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East metro reps take on 3M settlement

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Assistant Commissioner Kirk Koudelka and Rep. Tony Jurgens, R-Cottage Grove, discuss Jurgens' bill in the House Environment Finance Committee March 20. Courtesy of Minnesota House Photography

ST. PAUL — Attorney General Lori Swanson announced last month that the $850 million settlement negotiated between 3M Corp. and the state of Minnesota would not be accessible to Legislators, but that has not kept lawmakers from getting involved in the process.

Bills drafted by Reps. Tony Jurgens, R-Cottage Grove, and Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, were heard in the Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee March 20.

Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, is expected to sponsor the bills in the Senate.

Well testing

A bill drafted by Jurgens would allow east metro residents to request testing on their private wells.

He was in attendance at meetings last summer when the Minnesota Department of Health and the Pollution Control Agency discussed the decision to lower their health-based values of perfluorochemicals in drinking water, which triggered a watering ban in Cottage Grove and left municipal wells in other parts of south Washington County above the line.

In the committee discussion, Jurgens said he had been struck by the MPCA's answer to residents asking to have their wells tested, saying "it was basically 'Don't call us, we'll call you.'"

The department generally decided to test private wells when the residences were within the plume enough to warrant testing. "The people in the affected area, they're concerned," Jurgens said. "They're concerned about their health, they're concerned about the impact that it might have on their children, and so I don't think it's asking too much to allow them to have a little bit of peace of mind to have the labs test their wells."

The bill would require that the testing is funded with settlement money.

It would also require the MPCA to provide each community with a summary of the private well testing — including the number of wells tested and wells' PFC levels — along with a report to the Legislature by Jan. 15.

Kirk Koudelka, Assistant Commissioner of the MPCA, told the Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee March 1 that the department has tested over 1,200 residential wells in the east metro, and nearly 600 are above the MDH health-based values for PFCs.

Of the 470 households agreeing to have granular-activated carbon filters connected to their water, 385 have been installed so far. Koudelka said the GAC filters on private wells cost about $2,000 to install and about $1,000 to replace the filter each year.

Bottled water is provided for those who do not yet have filters installed.

The bill was laid over for possible inclusion.

Remediation account

The bill introduced by Fenton would set up an account for the settlement funds.

Under the bill, the MPCA and DNR would have to give a quarterly report to the Legislative Water Commission with expenditures.

"The most important thing to me and as I hear from my members of the community ... is we want transparency and accountability," Fenton said. "The most important thing that everybody wants is to make sure that their water quality is safe and sustainable long-term."

The MPCA and DNR would have to give an annual expenditure report to the Legislature by Nov. 1, as well as a spending plan for the upcoming year.

"While the account is not necessary to implement the settlement," Koudelka said, "we have no problems with it and if it helps with the transparency and reporting, that we were looking to do anyway, we're happy to move forward with it."

The bill has moved to the Ways and Means Committee.