CHICAGO – Flint, Mich. will receive nearly $100 million in state and federal funds to replace thousands of water service lines under a settlement approved by a federal judge Tuesday.
The agreement marks the latest development in the city’s efforts to recover from a water contamination crisis that’s shone a light on local, state, and federal failures.
U.S. District Court Judge David M. Lawson approved a settlement agreement that resolves a civil complaint brought in January 2016 by Concerned Pastors for Social Action, the Natural Resources Defense Council, American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, and other groups against the city and state.
The complaint charged the government entities with violating the federal Safe Drinking Water Act’s Lead and Copper Rules for corrosion control treatment, tap water monitoring, notification, and reporting by allowing contaminated drinking water into homes.
The lead contamination crisis developed after the city's contract with Detroit to receive Lake Huron water ended and the city shifted to Flint River water in April 2014 while awaiting the completion of the new $285 million pipeline that will provide Lake Huron water to Flint and other Genesee County communities. Flint, which was under state emergency management at the time, is on the hook for repayment of 34% of the $220 million bond issue for the project.
The city shifted back to Detroit-supplied water in the fall of 2015, but the lead contamination of the city water continued because of pipe corrosion triggered by the improperly treated river water.
Lawson called the 84 page settlement “fair, adequate, reasonable and consistent with the public interest” and “in the best interests of the citizens of Flint and the state,” according to numerous publications.
The state commits $87 million to help fund the replacement of 18,000 mostly lead service lines by 2020. It must come up with at least $47 million of non-federal funds earmarked for water improvement grants. Another $10 million would be available would be made available should the project costs grow.
“This settlement continues the state’s commitment to providing the resources necessary for the residents of Flint to recover from the crisis, including health care services, nutritional food and replacement of lead service lines throughout the city,” Gov. Rick Snyder said in a statement.
Some of the funds had previously been pledged, but the court action cements the commitment and terms. The Flint City Council had approved the settlement last week and the Flint Receivership Transition Advisory Board followed in a vote Monday. The formal settlement was filed with the court Monday.
The plaintiffs had initially sought door-to-door bottled water deliveries but that demand was not included in the final settlement although residents can request it. It calls for extensive water monitoring that will continue after the lines are replaced, several community water resource sites will remain open until Sept. 1, and plaintiffs will receive $895,000 for attorney fees. Lawson presides in the district court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
The crisis has prompted state and congressional hearings, drawn criticism of Snyder's administration and the state's emergency manager rules, and led to criminal and civil charges.
Criminal charges were filed last December by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette accusing two former state-appointed emergency managers and two other ex-city employees with using false and misleading tactics to participate in the bond-financed Karegnondi Water Authority project. The charges are part of Schuette's ongoing investigation into the water crisis.