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Federal judge finds city of Flint in "civil contempt" for handling of lead pipe removal program

Steve Carmody
Michigan Public

The city of Flint has been found in civil contempt by a federal judge for its handling of its lead pipe replacement program.

Flint started ramping up its pipe replacement program in the wake of the city’s water crisis. Improperly treated river water used as the city’s drinking water source damaged pipes, releasing lead and other contaminants into Flint’s tap water. Service lines connecting homes and businesses to city water mains were a prime source of lead in the drinking water.

However, checking and excavating the pipes proved to be a slow process. So slow, that local Flint activists and religious leaders filed a lawsuit to force the city to accelerate the work.

As part of a 2017 settlement, the city of Flint was placed under a court order to remove the lead and galvanized pipes by a certain date. But for a variety of reasons, the city repeatedly missed the court’s deadlines.

This week, U.S. District Court Judge David Lawson decided to hold the city of Flint in “civil contempt." In his ruling, Lawson wrote the city of Flint has “no good reason for its failures.”

Even though more than 29,000 service lines have been checked and more than 10,000 lead pipes have been removed, there are still some 30 service lines to check.

“Residents are not asking the City of Flint to do the impossible,” said Addie Rolnick, an attorney with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and lawyer in the case. “They simply want officials to meet deadlines and finish the work the City already agreed to.”

Flint City Attorney William Kim says the city is disappointed that the Court is allowing the NRDC to seek attorney fees for their motion. Kim did welcome part of the contempt ruling.

“We appreciate that the court recognized that the City of Flint corrected the issues raised by the NRDC in the spring of 2023,” said Kim.

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.