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Decatur City Council, Morgan County Commission approve near $100 million settlement with 3M

Tennessee Riverkeeper Attorney says 3M Decatur’s remediation will be one of America’s most important environmental decisions.
Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 5:34 PM CDT
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MORGAN CO., Ala. (WAFF) - After years of legal wrangling, a near $100 million lawsuit is settled. Tuesday night, the Decatur City Council and the Morgan County Commission approved the $98.4 million settlement with 3M in PFA’s lawsuits.

The chemical producer 3M is connected to dumping PFAs chemicals into Morgan County waterways and heavily polluting the area. The settlement will go towards environmental cleanup and remediation.

From attorneys involved in these cases, to subject matter experts, local politicians, comments from citizens, and everything in between, the whole goal of the meeting was to ensure sites around Morgan County will be remediated from PFAs and become a better place for the future.

This is how the money will be split among the parties:

  • $9.2 million reimbursement for past PFAS costs
  • $7.0 million or future sludge disposal costs for DU
  • $25 million payment to Decatur, Morgan County and Decatur Utilities
  • $22.2 million payment to cap Cells 2-11 of the Decatur-Morgan County Regional Landfill
  • $35 million for new recreational and ball fields to replace the Aquadome complex

“It is a very big victory for everyone tonight,” said Attorney Barney Lovelace.

Barney Lovelace represents the City of Decatur, the Morgan County Commission, and Decatur Utilities. He says they’ve been in mediation for almost six years, and they needed to reach an agreement that was good for the clients, but also...

“It’s just as important was to make sure that the environment in this area was protected and preserved for the future,” said Lovelace.

Their case is also tied in with Tennessee Riverkeeper and the St. John case.

“It’s not a perfect settlement, But it does guarantee that we have power and authority moving forward,” said Tennessee Riverkeeper Founder David Whiteside.

But, Riverkeeper founder David Whiteside says he doesn’t trust 3M.

“They have destroyed this area, they have been dragging their feet on cleaning this mess up. And hopefully, this settlement will get them to speed things up but I haven’t seen that,” said Whiteside.

Whiteside says this settlement isn’t the end, it’s the beginning of the cleanup process. He says it’s important citizens continue to pay attention to the issue.

“If we forget about it, 3M’s just going do a half-baked remediation plan and they’re gonna get away with it, and we can’t let them do that,” said Whiteside.

Lovelace said with this latest settlement, the present-day value of money spent on remediation totals a quarter of a billion dollars.

The latest settlements relates to property damage claims only, however there were some citizens who voiced their concerns about public health problems due to PFAs. One thing that was stressed a lot in the meeting is that the drinking water in Decatur is safe.

Attorney for Tennessee Riverkeeper Bill Matsikoudis says all they want is a cleanup, and to get to a point where people can eat the fish in the Tennessee River and safely utilize the river recreationally. He says there’s more investigation to be done before that cleanup can happen.

Matsikoudis says as for the settlement, it was a long time coming, and there is a long road to go.

”I feel some degree of satisfaction that we’ve gotten to this point, but I know that the most important decisions are yet to come and we have to stay vigilant. Like I said to the City Council and the County Commissioners, we actually have to work harder going forward to make sure that the investigations, that we see that we analyze them closely, and that we speak out about what’s the right remediation...that’s going to be a decision that’s going to be one of the most important environmental decisions in America. That’s going to come up in the next couple years, and we’re glad we’re getting a seat at the table, thanks to the settlement.” said Matsikoudis.

Matsikoudis says he wants the city and county to know that there is a problem at hand and a condition that needed to be addressed, and they’ve fought hard for something to be done. If environmental standards or safety limits change in relation to PFAs chemicals, 3M may have to go back to the drawing board.

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