Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, under fire for the water crisis in Flint, is expected to address the situation Tuesday night during his annual State of the State.
The Republican governor has become a lightning rod for criticism because the crisis unfolded under the state’s watch.
Snyder’s critics say he’s handled the situation so abominably that the crisis amounts to the governor’s “Katrina.”
He has apologized and acknowledged what’s happened is a “disaster,” but says he’s doing all he can and won’t step down.
“I want to solve this problem,” he told the National Journal. “I don’t want to walk away from it.”
The governor’s State of the State address is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. ET.
An attorney representing Flint residents who are suing Michigan officials over what his legal team calls the city’s “lousy, no-good water” has a message for state officials targeted in the lawsuits: “Don’t fight it.”
The state is responsible for the water woes Flint residents have suffered and continue to suffer as a result, and the only responsible thing the state can do is own up to it, attorney Michael Pitt said.
“If you make the mess, you clean it up,” he said. “I’m reminding our elected officials of what my kindergarten teacher told me.”
The three lawsuits seek individual damages for Flint residents — an estimated 500 and counting at the time of the news conference — who have complained of health issues and worry about future ailments as a result of the state swapping the city’s water source from Lake Huron to the notoriously filthy Flint River in 2014.
Bill Goodman, another member of the legal team, explained to reporters the purpose of the three lawsuits: The federal lawsuit filed in November addresses alleged violations of the U.S. Constitution; the suit filed last week in the Michigan Court of Claims targets alleged violations of the state constitution; and the suit filed in Genesee County Circuit Court deals with what he called “grossly negligent actions by government officials.”
‘Stuff is revealed’
During the discovery process, Goodman said, attorneys and their clients should receive within six weeks emails and other documents from various government officials, including Snyder, that could shed light on a critical yet heretofore unanswered question: How the heck did this occur?
“We finally find out what happened. Stuff is revealed that hasn’t been revealed,” he said.
Pitt added that the response to the federal lawsuit is due February 1, and that may provide some answers, but he encouraged state leaders to act promptly in providing money to residents who have been inconvenienced, sickened or worse by the water debacle.
“They need financial aid. Water’s great. Filters are great,” he said. “But our people need financial aid, and they need it now.”
He further lambasted state officials who, he alleged, learned of elevated lead levels in children’s blood in 2014 and did nothing.
“They were staring at a public health emergency, and they sat on it for over 10 months,” he said, further criticizing leaders who assured residents the water was safe when they knew it wasn’t true.
“I don’t know how many kids were poisoned because of these false assurances, but we’re going to find out.”
In April 2014, the state — which had appointed an emergency manager to Flint amid a financial crisis — decided to temporarily switch Flint’s water source to the Flint River as a cost-saving measure until a new supply line to Lake Huron was ready.
The Flint River had long had a reputation for nastiness when the state made the switch, and a 2011 study had found that before water from the Flint River could be considered potable, it would need to be treated with an anti-corrosion agent, a measure that would have cost the state about $100 a day.
Experts say that water treatment would have prevented 90% of the problems with Flint’s water.
After the switch, residents complained their water looked, smelled and tasted funny.
Virginia Tech researchers found the water was highly corrosive. A class-action lawsuit filed last year alleges the state Department of Environmental Quality didn’t treat the water for corrosion, in accordance with federal law, and because so many service lines in Flint are made of lead, the noxious element leached into the water of the city’s homes.
The city swapped back to the Lake Huron water supply in October, but the damage was already done to the lead pipes. The state is now handing out filters and bottled water with the help of the National Guard.
State of emergency on three levels
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, who took office two months ago, and Snyder have both declared states of emergency. Responding to Weaver’s and Snyder’s cry for federal assistance, which Snyder said would help with temporary housing and home repairs, Obama on Saturday also issued a state of emergency.
“The checks and balances that theoretically could have been there didn’t work. This is a mess. I mean, I feel terrible about all this happening. And that’s why I’m working hard to do everything I can to repair the damage and then actually work to strengthen Flint and the citizens,” Snyder told the National Journal.
It’s too little, too late, say some.
On Monday, around 100 protesters rallied outside of the governor’s home in downtown Ann Arbor, according to CNN affiliate WXYZ. More protests were planned for Tuesday.