KALAMAZOO, MI (From news reports) -- The Kalamazoo City Commission has voted to accept a $5.4 million settlement with Georgia-Pacific and 3M over PFAS contamination in the City of Parchment and Cooper Township.
The settlement was agreed upon during a virtual meeting Monday night, and the funding will be used to pay for Cooper Township property connections to the City of Kalamazoo water supply.
According to city documents, the settlement stems from the 2018 discovery of PFAS chemicals in the Parchment water system. This same contamination was discovered in private wells near the James River paper mill properties located in Cooper Township.
PFAS chemicals are linked to several health effects and do not break down in the environment, which is why they are often referred to as "forever chemicals."
The city says that, while Georgia-Pacific never operated the paper mill in question, it acquired the assets and liabilities of James River. The company 3M manufactured products containing PFAS which were allegedly sold to and used by James River in their paper-making processes.
As a result, Cooper Township requested that the City expand its water system to provide safe, potable water to those properties served by contaminated wells.
Rather than engage in litigation of the matter, which officials say would be a costly process, the city decided instead to negotiate with the companies in question.
That resolution involved determining the degree and location of PFAS contamination near the former James River mill site and attempting to rule out other
possible sources of contamination. Discussions also involved the degree of engineering needed to provide potable water to those affected Cooper Township properties.
Through negotiations, Georgia-Pacific and 3M will pay $5.4 million dollars out of a total project cost of $8.1 million to deliver water to Cooper Township properties, according to city documents. That funding will help link affected homes to the Kalamazoo municipal water supply.
The remaining $2.7 million will be financed by the water system using low interest loans underwritten by the State of Michigan, city documents state. The agreement has already been accepted by the Cooper Township Board, according to Robinson.
"The attorney who represented the paper companies acknowledged that he wanted to play ball with us," City Attorney Clyde Robinson said of the negotiations. "There was a little bit of give and take. Obviously the paper companies wanted to, I don't want to say get out of it as cheaply as they could, but they recognized there was some cost and risk in going forward, and they had an initial figure they presented to us."
Robinson also said that had the agreement not been reached, the funding would have had to come from other sources, like grants. Per the agreement, the City will not pursue legal action against either of the companies.
"Effectively, we have a project with about $10.5 in value that we're able to install and put in the ground for about $2.7 million," Kalamazoo Public Services Director James Baker said at the meeting. "So that is an excellent example of inter-governmental cooperation between the city and Cooper Township, as well as all the partners in community that made this project possible."
Ultimately, the settlement passed with a unanimous vote. The companies now have thirty days to make the payment to the city.