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Gov. Snyder spending another week wrestling with Flint's water crisis

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

Like last week, when he testified before Congress, the Flint water crisis again dominated Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s schedule this week. 

First, the governor outlined a sweeping plan for dealing with the city of Flint’s drinking water crisis.

Then only a few days later, a task force that he appointed put the blame on his office, his appointees and two state agencies for Flint’s lead tainted water.

People in Flint are still lining up for bottled water. 

Two years ago, the city switched its drinking water source to the Flint River. But the water wasn’t properly treated, damaging city pipes, which have been leaching lead into the drinking water ever since.  

But Michigan Governor Rick Snyder says he has a plan.

On Monday, he released a 75 point plan to target short-term, intermediate-term and long-term needs in Flint.

“I want to solve the problem in Flint. So that’s my focal point," Snyder told reporters. "(I'm) glad to get 75 points out there that we’re going to work on putting in place.”

The plan includes goals for blood lead level testing for children, mobile nutritional centers and higher lead testing standards for local water systems. 

Some of the short-term items in the governor’s plan are already underway. But many others are unfunded or lack specifics. 

And in Flint, some residents are frustrated that the plan doesn’t call for immediately removing all lead service lines. 

Flint city council president Kerry Nelson calls it more of a Christmas list than an actual plan.  

“Is it the best effort he can make? No. I think some terms are very vague and it’s going to be a long road," Nelson says, "time at this junction is not on our side ... because we need to start digging up and remove all lead-lined service lines.”

Flint has started digging up the suspect lead service lines, but only about a dozen of the estimated eight thousand lead lines have been replaced so far. 

Just as the governor started promoting his 75 point plan to fix Flint, his office received a rebuke from a task force he appointed to examine the city’s water crisis. 

On Wednesday, the task force primarily blamed state government, including the governor’s office for Flint’s water crisis.

"I’ve been asked several times ‘what caused this?’" task force co-chair Chris Kolb told reporters. "It was a mixture of ignorance, incompetence and arrogance by many decision-makers that created a toxic and tragic situation that produced the Flint water crisis.”

Singled out for criticism is Michigan’s emergency manager law.

It was a state-appointed emergency manager who decided to switch the source of Flint’s tap water to save money. And emergency managers long ignored residents’ complaints about their tap water.

The task force says Michigan’s emergency manager law needs to be changed to allow for more “checks and balances."

Task force co-chair Ken Sikkema says it’s part of a broader need for a cultural change in state government.

“Where you don’t treat outside opinion as a threat," says Sikkema. "You use it as a way to reassess the official government position. That change has to occur throughout state government.”

Governor Snyder listened uneasily as the task force delivered its report. 

He said afterward the state is already implementing some of its recommendations, some of which are mirrored in his 75-point plan.

But amid all this, Flint residents still want to know when they can again safely drink unfiltered water from their faucets.  

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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