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Gov. Snyder's Sweeping Plan For Flint Water Crisis Gets A Reality Check

Volunteers load cases of free water into waiting vehicles at a water distribution centre at Salem Lutheran Church in Flint, Michigan, on March 5, 2016.
Geoff Robins
/
AFP/Getty Images
Volunteers load cases of free water into waiting vehicles at a water distribution centre at Salem Lutheran Church in Flint, Michigan, on March 5, 2016.

People in Flint are still lining up for bottled water. Two years ago, the city switched its drinking water source to the Flint River. But the water wasn't properly treated, damaging city pipes, which have been leaching lead into the drinking water ever since.

Now Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder says he has a plan.

On Monday, he released a 75 point-plan to target short-term, intermediate-term and long-term needs in Flint.

"I want to solve the problem in Flint. So that's my focal point," Gov. Snyder said. "Glad to get 75 points out there that we're going to work on putting in place."

The plan includes goals for blood-lead level testing for children, mobile nutritional centers and higher lead testing standards for local water systems.

Some of the short-term items in the governor's plan are already underway. But many others are unfunded or lack specifics.

And in Flint, some residents are frustrated that the plan doesn't call for immediately removing all lead service lines.

Flint City Council President Kerry Nelson calls it more of a Christmas list than an actual plan.

"Is it the best effort he can make? No. I think some terms are very vague and it's going to be a long road before we get to them," Nelson said. "Time at this junction is not on our side because we need to start digging up and remove all lead-lined service lines."

After testifying before Congress last week, the Flint water crisis again dominated Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's schedule this week.
Andrew Harnik / AP
/
AP
After testifying before Congress last week, the Flint water crisis again dominated Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's schedule this week.

In fact, Flint has started digging up the suspect lead service lines, but only about a dozen of the estimated 8,000 lead lines have been replaced so far.

Just as the governor started promoting his 75-point plan to fix Flint, his office received a rebuke from a task force he appointed to examine the city's water crisis.

On Wednesday, the task force primarily blamed state government, including the governor's office for Flint's water crisis in a final public report released that morning.

"I've been asked several times, 'What caused this?' " said the task force's Co-Chair Chris Kolb. "It was a mixture of ignorance, incompetence and arrogance by many decision makers that created a toxic and tragic situation that produced the Flint water crisis."

Singled out for criticism is Michigan's emergency manager law.

It was a state-appointed emergency manager who decided to switch the source of Flint's tap water to save money, and emergency managers long ignored residents' complaints about their tap water.

The task force says Michigan's emergency manager law needs to be changed to allow for more "checks and balances."

Task force Co-Chair Ken Sikkema says it's part of a broader need for a cultural change in state government.

"One recommendation we made for the governor is to create a culture in state government where you don't treat outside opinion as a threat," Sikkema says. "You use it as a way to reassess the official government position. That change has to occur throughout state government."

Gov. Snyder listened uneasily as the task force delivered its report. He said the state is already implementing some of its recommendations, some of which are mirrored in his 75-point plan.

But as all this occurs, Flint residents still want to know when they can again safely drink unfiltered water from their faucets.

Copyright 2016 Michigan Radio

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Radio since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting. During his two and a half decades in broadcasting, Steve has won numerous awards, including accolades from the Associated Press and Radio and Television News Directors Association. Away from the broadcast booth, Steve is an avid reader and movie fanatic. Q&A