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Surprise! Michigan Officials Knew Flint River Water Was Crap, Used It Anyway
Sure it's poison. But think of the savings!
[contextly_sidebar id="XqXwHh35oKT1bqdy7ZTeL5Vr0Dl18big"]So here's a huge surprise, at least if you've never seen how an outrageously cynical political scandal unfolds. Way back in 2012, the emergency managers Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder appointed to reorganize the finances of the city of Flint briefly considered saving money by using water from the Flint River instead of buying water from Detroit. But after state environmental regulators said the river water was bad for children and other living things, they decided against the switch. And then the governor's office stepped in and told them to go ahead and use the river water anyway, because it was cheaper. As a result, the Flint River water corroded the city's old pipes, leading to lead contamination of the water supply. But they saved a few bucks in the short term, and the goal was to save money, wasn't it?
ACLU of Michigan investigative reporter Curt Guyette untangles the whole sorry mess in The Daily Beast:
Snyder appointed Ed Kurtz to be Flint’s second emergency manager and Kurtz selected Jerry Ambrose to be the city’s chief financial officer. Both men were tasked by the Republican governor’s administration with restructuring the city’s government to save money after it was in danger of becoming insolvent. One cost-saving measure considered was to quit buying municipal water from Detroit.
In a civil deposition not reported until now, Ambrose testified under oath that emergency manager Kurtz considered a proposal to use the Flint River, discussed the option with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and then rejected it.
In one of those happy accidents of journalism, the information came out as part of a lawsuit that isn't even about Flint's water crisis; Ambrose was deposed in 2014 as part of a suit by retired Flint city workers whose health care benefits were slashed to save the city money. Ambrose testified Flint's emergency management team decided against switching to using Flint River water after the MDEQ "indicated they would not be supportive of the use of the Flint River on a long-term basis as a primary source of water." When asked why MDEQ advised against it, he said, "You’ll have to ask them." Buck successfully passed!
[contextly_sidebar id="xfBnkEIqFcQ1K5sDpExtJ9a2249wXyU1"]That decision was made in December 2012; by early 2014, though, the Flint River had magically become the perfect money-saving alternative to buying nice clean Lake Huron water from Detroit, at least while Flint built a new system to bring in its own water from Lake Huron. Now we're learning where that decision came from, and sorry, National Review, it wasn't the fault of incompetent Democrats who like wasting taxpayer money.
In an October 2015 interview recorded shortly after Flint's lead levels became public, Flint's former director of public works, Howard Croft, told the Michigan ACLU the decision came when Detroit wanted to renegotiate its contract with Flint. He said the "evaluations had gone on all the way up to the state level on what would the best course of action would be [sic] for the city of Flint, and that was the determination." Asked to clarify if the decision-making process had gone "all the way to the governor's office," Croft readily agreed: "All the way to the governor's office." (This exchange is at about the 3-minute mark in the video):
Snyder's then-spokeswoman Sara Wurfel contended, as have other state officials, that the switch to Flint water was forced on the city when Detroit terminated its contract; in reality, another in a series of emergency managers for Flint, Darnell Earley, had written to Detroit and thanked them for their kind offer to renegotiate the agreement, but no thanks, the city had decided to go with the Flint River:
Thank you for the correspondence that provides Flint the option of continuing to purchase water from the city of Detroit. … The City of Flint has actively pursued the Flint River as a temporary water source
So while Detroit kept trying to renegotiate to keep providing water to Flint, emergency manager Earley was firm in his rejection of the effort, because the Flint River water would save the city tons of money. And now Flint will have to replace huge portions of its water lines to provide tap water that won't poison kids. Just goes to show you can't always trust the Earley cost estimates.
[contextly_sidebar id="9hWui9GjICWujBhrL15Scn4NJJjciZTo"]Funny thing: Not a bit of this background made it into Gov. Snyder's State of the State speech last week, in which he said he was really sorry about all the lead poisoning in Flint. Really very sorry "the government" made all those bad decisions. Why, he even released all his emails regarding Flint from 2014 and 2015, in the interest of transparency. As we noted last week, here's how transparent the very first document in the email dump was:
Considering we now know Flint's earlier emergency managers had decided in December 2012 against using the corrosive Flint River water, and then a bit over a year later, a different emergency manager decided it was a terrific water source, you have to wonder what might be hiding in Snyder's emails from 2012 and 2013. In a quirk of Michigan law, the governor's office and state legislators are actually exempt from Freedom Of Information Act requests, so anything Snyder releases is up to him. As things stand, Flint's murky water is more transparent than the state's government.