CHICAGO – Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is requesting a federal emergency declaration and supporting a shift of more executive powers back to Flint Mayor Karen Weaver as the city grapples with a water crisis that could cost more than $1 billion to fix.
State officials said a supplemental spending bill will go before lawmakers in the coming weeks to help cover some near-term costs. Snyder said emergency measures could cost $41 million. The state's latest revenue forecast released Thursday that shows a $575 million surplus could help cover any immediate needs.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette also announced on Friday that he is launching an investigation to determine if any state laws were violated leading up to and during the lead contamination crisis.
Residents are being urged to use bottled water or a lead filter on their water taps and test children on lead levels, which can cause brain damage through elevated exposure.
The crisis began after the city broke off from the Detroit Water and Sewerage System in 2014, saying it was too expensive.
The city began pulling water from the Flint River with a plan to use the river water until 2016, when it will get its water from a new pipeline being built by the Karegnondi Water Authority.
The city joined the authority, which will draw water from Lake Huron, in 2013 as a means to save money. The authority, which also includes two other counties in addition to Flint and Genesee County, issued $220.5 million of bonds in 2014 to fund the 63-mile pipeline to Lake Huron.
Snyder's announcement followed a meeting with Mayor Karen Weaver on Thursday.
"Mayor Weaver has requested that the powers and authority currently vested in the city administrator be transferred to the mayor. I agree with her, and have asked the Receivership Transition Advisory Board to support that resolution," Snyder said.
The move would give the city more flexibility as it works to solve a water contamination crisis that state officials have acknowledged they were too slow to act on and for which Snyder has apologized.
Snyder last spring declared Flint's fiscal emergency over and shifted its fiscal management from the city's emergency manager to an oversight board. The move to return greater powers to the city's elected leaders won't free it from oversight. "Flint is in financial distress and will remain in receivership until I am convinced that the city is on strong financial standing. Both the RTAB and the state will support Mayor Weaver and her team to navigate the financial challenges ahead," Snyder said at the time.
In a separate statement released late Thursday, Snyder said he is requesting a federal emergency declaration in Genesee County, of which Flint is the seat, to "protect the health, safety and welfare of Flint residents." He previously declared a state emergency.
After the switch, it quickly became clear that the Flint River water was polluted, with residents complaining of a yellowish color and strong odor. Tests later show lead levels exceeding federal standards, including in elementary schools.
Last fall, the state provided the city with $6 million to help over the costs of reconnecting temporarily Detroit's water and sewer system. The temporary move did not solve the city's problems as it became clear that the water delivery system's pipes were contaminated with the lead-laden water.
An inter-agency state task force is expected to be set up to help the city with its needs and figure out the costs of a fix. Weaver said she's heard cost estimates as low as a few million to more than $1 billion depending on the level of infrastructure damage. State officials have declined to offer any estimates.
City residents have filed state and federal lawsuits against various officials over the crisis.
The water authority's 2014 bonds are payable from contractual payments made by both Genesee County and Flint, each of which expect to make its contractual payment from revenues collected from charges imposed on the customers of its respective water supply system.
Genesee and Flint pledged their limited tax full faith and credit for the payment of their contractual payment and Genesee has also pledged a step-up to make all payments that Flint fails to make to KWA under the contract, providing protection for bondholders should Flint run struggle to pay the debt.
"I look forward to working with federal, state and local officials, community leaders and Flint residents as we seek answers regarding state law and hope through the process we can help restore some of the trust in our government while helping families move forward," Schuette said.
Snyder and Schuette are fellow Republicans.