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3M settlement bill passes House

ST. PAUL — A bill to monitor the way 3M settlement funds are spent was passed in the House May 14.

The bill, penned by Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, creates an account for funds from the settlement between Minnesota and 3M Corp. in February regarding perfluorochemical pollution in the east metro area.

About $720 million remaining after paying legal fees from the $850 million settlement.

Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, is carrying the bill in the Senate. It is currently in committee.

The bill includes an amendment from Rep. Tony Jurgens, R-Cottage Grove, that would launch an interactive website from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency where residents can see where wells have been tested for PFC levels, where well advisories and highest PFC measurements are located, and request testing on private wells.

The amendment began as a standalone bill, but Jurgens said it was added to Fenton's bill to mitigate "unintended consequences," that stemmed from original language that would have allowed anyone to request a well testing. Not only would it have become cost restrictive for the MPCA to test, but residents in less affected areas could have jumped ahead of those deeper in the plume.

Fenton said on the House floor that she has been working with representatives from the MPCA, Department of Natural Resources and city stakeholders to ensure that "when we do this we do it right."

"(This bill provides) critical safeguards around funding to make sure they're engaging the communities about our priorities," she said.

The settlement order detailed three priorities where the funds can be spent: improvements to water quality and sustainability, restoration of the area's natural resources, and miscellaneous statewide water or recreation projects. The last two will only be done if the first priority has been achieved.

The MPCA and DNR are currently forming working groups for all cities and stakeholders to discuss the proposals and priorities. The bill would require those state agencies to discuss options with the cities before making any decisions.

The bill would require the MPCA to report back to the Legislature next winter to outline how the money will be spent.

The MPCA also must submit financial reports to committees twice a year.

South St. Paul DFLer Rep. Rick Hansen worries what will happen if the plume moves to his district, which lies adjacent to the polluted areas.

"The bigger issue is what's going to happen outside of these boundaries, what's going to happen when we find more fish that are contaminated... because it's likely to happen," he said.

The bill lists the primary remediation areas, but does not limit funds to those areas.

Other legislators pushed back because the bill allowed 10 percent to go toward administrative costs, which some argue is too high. The percentage has been removed from the bill for the time being.

Jurgens said they will work to push those costs lower in the future.

"We too want as much of this to go to the settlement area, our people," he said.

In a letter of support for the bill, Cottage Grove estimated their own legal, administrative and design expenditures will make up about 18 to 30 percent of project costs.