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Where are the records? Lawmaker wants answers on Flint water switch

Courtesy of the office of State Rep. Phil Phelps

A state lawmaker is heading to court to force the city of Flint and a state agency to release documents related to the decision to make the Flint River the city’s drinking water source.

A year and a half ago, the city switched from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Flint River.   

Initially, there were complaints about the smell, taste, and appearance of the city’s drinking water. More problems, including high levels of lead in the water in many homes, led Gov. Rick Snyder to address a $12 million plan to return the city to Detroit water, until a new pipeline from Lake Huron is completed next year. 

But State Rep. Phil Phelps, D-Flushing, wants to know more about the decision-making process that took place before the switch. He’s filed Freedom of Information Act requests with both the city and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Specifically, Phelps wants to see the permits granted to make the switch possible. 

However, the city and the MDEQ have rejected Phelps FOIA requests. They say the documents he requested don’t exist.

“For them to say there’s other documents I simply didn’t reference by name is disingenuous,” says Phelps. 

Phelps is asking two courts to weigh in.

By the end of this week, he plans to file a lawsuit in the Court of Claims against the MDEQ and in circuit court against the city of Flint. 

Flint City Administrator Natasha Henderson issued a statement:

“The City of Flint is operating as permitted by the MDEQ, however the specific documents requested by Rep. Phelps do not exist. As the City’s full-time back up water source during the previous contract with DWSD, the Flint River was already an approved drinking water source. This issue could be as simple as a miscommunication on what was sought by Rep. Phelps and the City is willing to meet with his office to clarify and provide more information.”

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.