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Despite Snyder’s efforts, apologies, Flint protesters calling for resignation

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
A couple hundred protesters march in Lansing on Thursday. Many want Gov. Snyder to resign.

Residents of Flint, Michigan have been dealing with a water crisis for more than a year now.

The number of children with higher lead levels has doubled since 2014, when the government switched drinking water sources. For almost four months, people have been told not to drink the tap water because there’s too much lead in it.

But it was just Saturday that President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Flint.

Karen Weaver means business. She was elected mayor of Flint in November and in office, one of the first things she did was to declare an emergency for the city. She pushed for a similar declaration at the state and federal level, even when people told her the city’s man-made disaster wouldn’t qualify.

Saturday night at Flint City Hall she shared some good news from the White House.

“I just wanted to say that the president has granted our request for an emergency declaration,” Weaver said. The crowd of council persons and about two dozen residents cheered.

In an odd way, getting this federal recognition is a big win for the city; a validation of sorts.

Flint’s water problems have been festering for more than a year. The city was being run by a state appointed emergency manager when they made the decision to get cheaper tap water from the Flint River.

After that switch, the state’s environmental regulators misdirected city officials on how to treat the water. When local pediatricians produced data showing more kids were being exposed to lead, state officials initially discredited the findings.

The Department of Justice and Michigan’s Attorney General are looking into the matter.

In the meantime, Governor Snyder has repeatedly apologized to the people in Flint. True to form, he’s focusing on what he calls "relentless positive action."

“Let’s focus in on, there’s a commitment to solve the problem in Flint and I sincerely mean that. Hopefully you can see that,” Snyder said at a press conference in Detroit on Wednesday.

“We’re taking every action that, within reason and actually asking people to go beyond reasonable, to help address this question. Because this is something nobody wanted to see ever happen and we’re doing our best to take care of it,” he said.

Snyder repeatedly takes the time to list the things the state has done since October. The state has tested the water at schools. The state has handed out more than 50,000 water filters and 26,000 cases of water. But, Snyder said last week in Flint, “Those actions were not good enough. We’ve worked hard but we need to get more connections to the citizens of Flint.”

More than 40% of people in Flint live in poverty. Many don’t have the means to drive to a distribution center once a week and load a case or two of free bottled water in their trunks.

That’s why Snyder started sending teams door to door last week. He activated the Michigan National Guard and asked the federal government for help.

But that’s not enough for many Flint residents.

Nayyirah Shariff was among a couple hundred protestors who gathered outside Snyder’s office Thursday. She says the only thing Governor Snyder can do to appease Flint residents is to resign.

“The buck stops with him. This happened under his watch. His agencies covered it up. And he can flush his apology down the toilet because that’s all it’s worth,” Shariff said. “If he really wanted to apologize he should’ve done it back when we switched to Detroit and when he knew there was lead contamination. We had to drag him kicking and screaming down this path.”

John Lindstrom’s office is on the 12th floor, overlooking the protests on Michigan’s capitol. Lindstrom is the publisher of Gongwer News Service. In his 34 years covering state government, Lindstrom has seen plenty of governors that people didn’t like. But this feels different to him.

“There’s genuine hate out there right now. People calling for the governor to be put in jail, face criminal charges, which I cannot foresee see a circumstance where he would but that’s something I’ve never seen before,” Lindstrom said.

Lindstrom does not think there’s much of a chance that Snyder will resign.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver told residents Saturday the federal emergency declaration means the federal government, not state officials, will coordinate all disaster relief efforts.

“They will continue to assess our conditions and see what needs to happen next. The fight is not over but this is a huge hurdle that we have surpassed,” Weaver said.

The federal government will provide up to $5 million dollars for free bottled water, filters and water testing kits for up to 90 days. But that’ll barely make a dent in Flint’s long term needs. In Snyder’s request to Obama last week, he wrote that early estimates show it could cost at least $760 million to completely replace the lead service lines on both public and private property in Flint.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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