Acceptance of Consent Judgment conditioned on continuing involvement in oversight

In 2017, the Huron River Watershed Council joined the court case between Gelman Sciences and the State of Michigan to renegotiate the cleanup of the 1,4-dioxane plume in groundwater beneath western Ann Arbor and Scio Township. HRWC joined as an intervenor along with the City of Ann Arbor, Scio Township, and Washtenaw County. In the case, the parties have been re-negotiating a previous Consent Judgment that will dictate the conditions of enforcement for managing the contaminated groundwater.

In August, the renegotiated Consent Judgment was released to the public for comment. HRWC participated in the Joint Public Hearing hosted by the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners and attended the meetings of the intervenors where public comment was on the agenda. We welcomed input from our members and reviewed written comments that came directly to our organization. Finally, we consulted with experts and our legal counsel.

Link to Gelman Fourth Amendment Consent Judgment Videos
A series of videos, from the intervenors’ expert Dr. Lawrence Lemke explain the re-negotiated Consent Judgment. They can be viewed at the Gelman Proposed Settlement Documents web page.

There is information available online for those looking for additional details. Responses to some of the most frequently asked questions about the settlement can be found here. For a summary of the 4th amended CJ consider watching the explanatory videos by the intervenors expert Dr. Lawrence Lemke here.

After much deliberation, HRWC has passed a resolution to accept the 4th amended Consent Judgment, with three conditions.

  1. The Huron River Watershed Council has continuing involvement (as granted to the local government intervenors) in implementing the Consent Judgment to protect the surface water of the Huron River and its tributaries, consistent with the grounds for the Huron River Watershed Council’s intervention as granted by the Court
  2. Intervenors are provided with a role in the NPDES permitting process for discharge to First Sister Lake
  3. In cases where other Intervenors approve of settlement documents with conditions, these conditions are satisfactorily resolved.

These conditions reflect that HRWC was granted standing in the case to represent the river specifically and that HRWC supports the other intervenors conditional approvals and proposed.

We feel the conditional approval of the Consent Judgment is the best way available to protect the river. Among the reasons we feel this is the right course of action are (1) the agreement will bring cleanup criteria in line with current regulations immediately, reducing the 1,4 dioxane limit to 7.2 parts per billion instead of the current limit of 85 parts per billion, (2) treatment and monitoring will be increased and (3) local governments will have ongoing rights in the cleanup process.  This last is perhaps the most important. Communities affected by the contamination retain a seat at the table throughout the cleanup process and have a voice in decisions made along the way. This means that the CJ is not the end of the conversation, but a framework to ensure ongoing monitoring and participation in deciding how the cleanup proceeds.

It is important to note that we recognize and acknowledge the concerns of parties rejecting the proposed CJ with the hope that the Gelman site will be listed as a Superfund site by the U.S. EPA.  After careful consideration, however, we believe that possibility is too speculative and remote. There is significant uncertainty as to if EPA will list the site and if it does, when and to what level the cleanup will occur. While the revised consent judgment is not all we hoped for or deserve, it does make significant progress in what has been and what will, under any scenario, be a long journey. In the interest of the health of our residents and natural systems, the proposed Consent Judgment lays out a plan for a better cleanup and allows us to move forward with expediency. And expediency is of utmost importance as the spreading plume will not wait for a more perfect solution.