Ann Arbor City Council convened Monday evening to discuss approval of sustainable, affordable housing plans and to vote on the fourth consent judgement of the Gelman plume settlement — a vote which was ultimately rejected by City Council.
The Gelman plume is an accumulation of pollution into the water systems in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area over decades. This proposed settlement is a result of four years of negotiations since the lawsuit was filed against the now-defunct Gelman Sciences in 2016.
This fourth consent judgement offers details for a thorough cleanup protocol that includes expanding prohibition drinking water zones and increasing well installments to help monitor the plume’s migration.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, local Ann Arbor citizens voiced concerns with the process of coming to a Gelman settlement. Elizabeth Collins, a resident of an Ann Arbor area affected by the dioxane plume, said the proposal does not clean up the pollution because the plan relocates the dioxane to other water sources, instead of restoring the affected water to drinking water level. The chemicals were first detected in First Sister Lake, located on the west side of Ann Arbor.
“Why is there still no transparency?” Collins said. “Why are you protecting the polluter, it seems like? Why are you trying to settle for a bad deal, it feels like? The First Sister Lake discharge was a huge problem for many, but it’s not the only problem, and it’s not something a pipeline will fix.”
Council voted 7-4 to reject the settlement, after which Councilmember Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, suggested Council ask for the site of the dioxane plume to be considered for federal Superfund cleanup.
Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, said he is disappointed with the way Gelman Sciences handled the situation. Ramwali said the company’s problematic approach to the pollution is exemplified by the disconnect between the Ann Arbor residents and this proposal.
“Now we have this stipulation that if we ask for federal assistance in this matter, we’re going to get slapped down with a million dollar fee or fine, just shows you the level of disconnection there is between the people I represent and this agreement,” Ramlawi said. “So, again, big fat no to this amendment.”
Eaton also pointed to the lengthy negotiation predating this proposal. Despite years of back-and-forth, Eaton, who did not support the proposal, said this agreement is still not sufficient to effectively clean the Gelman plume.
“I want to point out that we’re years into these negotiations, and the number of amendments and the substance of these amendments demonstrate that we are nowhere near an agreement,” Eaton said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for us, as one of the three intervenors, to identify half a dozen or so changes that we would really like if we could just convince the polluter to now agree to things that they apparently haven’t agreed to in the past.”
As the councilmembers’ debate neared 2 a.m. on Tuesday morning, Councilmember Chip Smith, D-Ward 5, said the state of the conversation had become unproductive.
“I think this was so deceptive,” Smith said. “I think this is so counter to the values that I continue to hear from my colleagues. I’m disgusted by this. At the very least, postpone this so that we can have a coherent, communal debate at a normal hour where the community can participate in the debate. This is moving ahead without our partners.”
The vote for Superfund consideration failed, 6-5. Mayor Christopher Taylor threatened to veto the resolution if it passed, saying that this discussion goes against the values of the council.
“This is an outrageous exercise,” Taylor said. “This is not how we do business here. We don’t do business by springing things on council, and the public at 1 a.m. and have these consequences. So I’m telling you that right now.”
Councilmembers also unanimously approved two proposals to develop community spaces, accessory retail and advanced sustainable construction methods to include affordable housing in the County Farm Park. In collaboration with Veridian at County Farm, the city plans to increase its affordable housing options for its residents.
Councilmember Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, said this proposal is an opportunity to enable private and nonprofit partnership to encourage a mixed-income and carbon-neutral neighborhood. Ackerman said the city has been working towards this initiative for years.
“I’m proud to lend my support and voice to this tonight and I invite this project and its residents into the neighborhood that I call home,” Ackerman said. “It’s a great place to live and raise a family, so I’m ecstatic about this opportunity tonight and this is a small part that we play in this process.”
Daily Staff Reporter Kristina Zheng can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily News Contributors Daniel Muenz and Evan DeLorenzo contributed to reporting.
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