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Trump visit helps put Flint front and center once again

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump came to Flint today and toured the city's water plant.

The facility has not been operational since last fall, after the city switched back to Detroit water following a catastrophic move to pump water from the Flint River. The city failed to properly treat the river water, leading to a lead contamination crisis for the city of 100,000.  

Also in Flint yesterday, for the first time, a Michigan state employee was convicted for actions related to the water crisis. 

And both those events coincided with a discussion in two Michigan courtrooms, and in Washington D.C. on Capitol Hill, about what to do with the city’s tainted drinking water.

Wednesday, 65-year-old Corinne Miller sat quietly in a Flint courtroom. The retired state worker was there to plead "no contest" to a charge of willful neglect of duty.

Miller is the former director of the state Department of Health and Human Services' Bureau of Epidemiology.

Special Prosecutor Todd Flood told the judge that Miller was aware of a deadly spike in Legionnaire's disease cases in the months following the city’s shift to water drawn from the Flint River.   

He says Corinne Miller believed that the outbreak was linked to the same improperly treated water that was damaging pipes and leaching lead into the city’s drinking water. 

But she did nothing. 

A dozen people died from Legionnaire's disease during the outbreak.  

Prosecutor Flood says half the deaths occurred after Miller and two other state health department officials confirmed the outbreak and suspected the water.

“They had notice and they knew bad things were going happen. And when those bad things weren’t prevented that to me is disturbing,” Flood told reporters. “They could have prevented it. They could have used tools. They could have put out an alert. They didn’t do anything.”

Corinne Miller said little in court and declined comment afterward. But she’ll be back.

As part of her plea deal, she’s cooperating with a broader criminal investigation, in which seven current and former state employees have been charged with felonies. 

Meanwhile, in Detroit, a federal judge heard testimony in a lawsuit over Flint residents’ access to bottled water.

Thousands of Flint residents make daily treks to nine water distribution sites to pick up cases of bottled water.

Some live more than two miles from those sites.  

Activist Melissa Mays says it’s an especially hard trip for the one in five Flint residents who don’t own a car.

“And then you look at people who are senior citizens. When you have to go carry those cases of water they are 26 and a half pounds apiece … they can’t do that,” says Mays. “People who are disabled ,what are they supposed to do?”

Mays and others want the state to deliver water door to door to ensure everyone in Flint has access to bottled water. 

And in Congress, some of the state’s politicians wanted to talk about who will pay for Flint’s damaged pipes.

So far, about a hundred pipes connecting homes to city water mains have been replaced. But there may be more than 10,000 still leaching lead into people’s tap water. 

Michigan gave Flint nearly $30 million for new pipes. But the cost of replacing them all will be much higher. 

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow wants Congress to release tens of millions of dollars earmarked pipe replacement. It’s part of a $10 billion piece of legislation to repair aging municipal water systems across the United States.  

“We will not give up on the people of Flint until every man, every woman, every child in the city of Flint has the confidence that the water that comes out of their faucet is safe. That should be a basic American right,” says Stabenow.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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