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Cottage Grove weighs involvement in state 3M lawsuit

The city of Cottage Grove is considering whether to join a civil lawsuit filed by the state attorney general against 3M Co. seeking payment for environmental damage caused by decades of chemical pollution in Washington County.

City Council members met with City Attorney Corrine Heine earlier this month to weigh the pros and cons of becoming a part of the suit. The case was filed in December by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson in response to perfluorochemicals (PFCs) contamination across parts of the county, including Cottage Grove, Woodbury, Lake Elmo and Oakdale.

The city of Woodbury last month declined to intervene in the lawsuit. Lake Elmo officials are suing 3M.

City Administrator Ryan Schroeder declined to mention specific factors that Cottage Grove officials are deliberating over. In an interview, Mayor Myron Bailey didn't offer particulars of the council's closed-door discussion, but said they are trying to determine "how or if this would benefit Cottage Grove to get involved in the lawsuit."

That includes asking, "Will it be worth it, financially, to join the lawsuit?" Bailey said, considering legal fees the city could incur over the course of the court proceedings.

The state lawsuit alleges that 3M harmed Minnesota's natural resources when it disposed of PFC waste and wastewater for over 50 years. The company used PFCs to make stain-resistant, non-stick and fire-retardant products like Scotchguard.

A number of Cottage Grove homes near the 3M Cottage Grove facility have well water that has tested above acceptable levels set by the Minnesota Department of Health.

3M spokesman Bill Nelson said Monday the company is already dealing with the chemical contamination in a number of ways. That includes an ongoing remediation effort that includes the removal of contaminated soil from the 3M Cottage Grove site. Nelson said 3M finds the lawsuit "puzzling."

Bailey said his main concern is getting clean water to the rural Cottage Grove neighborhoods most affected by the PFC contamination.

"My biggest focus right now is dealing with these private well situations," he said. "(Cottage Grove's) biggest piece of damages would be down there where they can't draw water and drink it because of contamination."

Bailey said city officials directed the city attorney to seek more information on the lawsuit before a decision is made. City Council members and staff are set to meet again in closed session sometime in the next month to determine their course of action.