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Cottage Grove, Woodbury express concern about top-down approach in 3M settlement fund allocation

COTTAGE GROVE — Concern about local control ruled the conversation during an update for local governments on the progress of 3M settlement working groups.

The presentation, given by Minnesota Pollution Control Agency assistant commissioner Kirk Koudelka, was part of an April 30 joint workshop meeting between Cottage Grove and Woodbury city councils.

Koudelka summarized the planning that has gone on since July 2018 when working groups began meeting. The working groups were formed after the state of Minnesota and 3M Corp. settled a lawsuit about the dumping of PFCs in February 2018 for $850 million.

After legal fees, $720 million was made available to the east metro for long-term solutions in two areas: clean and sustainable drinking water, and the restoration and enhancement of natural resources.

Koudelka said the Conceptual Drinking Water Supply Plan, which will lay out how the settlement funds will be allocated, is expected to be finished by the end of 2019.

A third priority involves settlement funds being used for statewide projects, though Koudelka was quick to point out the low probability of any funds being left over because of the enormity of needs to be met under the first two priorities.

Local leaders frustrated by lack of control

Koudelka emphasized the need for a top-down approach in planning rather than having each community come up with its own plan, saying collaboration would better address underlying problems and avoid things like overlooking potential savings.

"While it takes a lot of upfront planning, in the long run this should save time from having to go back later and redo some of this as we start seeing what the plans are from the various communities," Koudelka said.

Several members of the Woodbury and Cottage Grove city councils and staff took issue with the amount of control they say the state, through the Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources, has in determining how settlement money is spent. Both cities also expressed frustration with the length of the process.

Woodbury City Administrator Clint Gridley argued it would have been better for the DNR to allocate "proportionate" funds to each municipality to do what they wish with the funds and partner with neighboring communities if they desired.

"You're sort of taking it upon yourself to (make) sure we all work together and play together and collaborate together, which is going to put you in the position of being the king to make the decisions, and we're going to come petition you for little bits and pieces," Gridley said. "I just see a very challenging process for you ahead."

Koudelka responded, saying that whatever model of fund disbursement is picked by the two state agencies, there will always be tradeoffs.

"The goal is to build a collaborative approach to try and soften some of those pieces as we listen and build together what the plan is where everyone gets their needs met," Koudelka said.

Gridley countered, saying: "It's a question of who's the decision maker: you, the state; or our communities."

Koudelka pointed out local involvement in the working groups, both of which include representatives from the affected municipalities. He emphasized the state does not have the authority to tell communities they must hook up to regional water systems, such as St. Paul Regional Water Services or Lincoln Pipestone Rural Water, both brought up at previous working group meetings as examples of existing municipal water systems.

Even so, cities expressed skepticism that St. Paul Regional Water Services or other state entities were not attempting to position themselves to receive settlement money.

In response, Koudelka said there is "no intention by the state" to use any settlement money for statewide projects or St. Paul Regional Water Services.

Koudelka also laid out several topics he said the working groups wanted local input from the communities, including which treatment options are favored and how long-term operation and maintenance expenses will be paid for.

Additionally, the two agencies have set aside $25 million to be spent on time-sensitive projects related to ensuring safe drinking water. The agencies said applications can be submitted by anyone and will be accepted until May 25.

Upcoming public meetings

• Citizen and Business Group: 1-4 p.m. May 14, Cottage Grove City Hall Training Room

• Government and 3M Working Group: 9 a.m.-12 p.m. May 15, Cottage Grove City Hall Training Room

• Drinking Water Supply Subgroup: 1-4 p.m. May 15, Cottage Grove City Hall Training Room

Hannah Black

Hannah Black is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. She is a proud graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism. Outside of reporting, she enjoys running, going to museums and trying new coffee shops. Her favorite thing to do is spend time with her dog, Wendell.

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