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Residents in Plainfield and Algoma Townships could foot the bill for water extension

Water running from tap
Creative Commons
Water running from tap

Residents in two West Michigan townships with PFAS contamination could end up paying to be connected to city water.

Officials from Plainfield and Algoma Townships say shoe manufacturer Wolverine Worldwide ended talks that included a plan to pay for the city water extension, but a representative from the company denies ending the talks.

Doug Van Essen, an attorney representing the DEQ and Plainfield and Algoma Townships in a lawsuit against Wolverine Worldwide, says the company is delaying a plan that would have had it pay an estimated $30 million for the water extension.

“We will proceed, in court, to try to hold them legally responsible and to compel their participation in the municipal water extension,” Van Essen said.

Wolverine is widely believed to be the source of ongoing PFAS contamination in groundwater and some surface water in Northern Kent County. The company dumped tannery waste at several spots in the area for decades, before such practices became illegal.

Cameron Van Wyngarden, the Plainfield Township Superintendent, says the plan was to extend city water to 500 households starting in 2019, but he says without the money from Wolverine, the plans could be delayed at least a year.

Van Wyngarden says the township spent most of this year preparing for the construction of the water extension.

“We’ve spent a lot of long hours trying to get this ready as quickly as possible, and now, we’ve wasted a lot of time,” Van Wyngarden said.

Van Wyngarden says about $500,000 of taxpayer money has already gone towards preparing for construction to begin. He worries that money may have been spent in vein, thanks to Wolverine’s delays.

Wolverine says any suggestion that the company is unwilling to negotiate or has stepped away from the table is untrue.

A full statement from the company:

Wolverine Worldwide remains at the table and is committed to discussing water quality solutions with Plainfield Township, Algoma Township, and the State. This is a position we have held since day one, and any suggestion that Wolverine is unwilling to negotiate, has stepped away from the table, or has recently changed its position is simply untrue.

From the beginning, we have said that multiple parties contributed to the water quality issues in our community, and any solution must include all relevant parties. We made this position clear in a Feb. 23, 2018 letter to the Township saying, “We wholeheartedly agree with the Township that many parties contributed to the water quality issues facing our community, and believe that any long-term solution must involve all those parties.”

Wolverine has been fully engaged in negotiations with the State of Michigan, Plainfield Township, Algoma Township, and other parties on a regular basis and remains committed to the process. At the same time, we remain committed to the community, and continue to provide proven, highly effective filters and drinking water while conducting groundwater sampling, analysis, and investigation to fully determine the possible sources and extent of PFOA and PFOS.

Bryce Huffman was Michigan Radio’s West Michigan Reporter and host of Same Same Different. He is currently a reporter for Bridge Detroit.
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