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Former mayor takes the witness stand at Flint water crisis bellwether trial

Former Flint mayor Dayne Walling (file photo)
Paula Friedrich
Michigan Radio

Former Flint mayor Dayne Walling spent several hours on the witness stand Monday testifying in a civil trial related to the Flint water crisis.

He spent much of his time recounting the path that led to the city’s ill-fated switch to the Flint River as its drinking water source.

In April, 2014, Walling pushed the button that started river water flowing into Flint’s pipes. But the river water was not properly treated. Eventually, lead started leaching for old pipes into people’s drinking water.

By the time the city was switched back to Detroit’s water system 18 months later, tests showed Flint children had elevated levels of lead in their blood.

Attorneys representing four children exposed to Flint water have been presenting their case against two engineering firms (Andrews, Lockwood & Newnam and Veolia North America) that consulted on Flint’s water system during the crisis.

Until this week, the plaintiffs have presented mainly technical witnesses.

Dayne Walling served as mayor of Flint from 2009, when he won a special election, until 2015, when he lost his re-election bid. It was just after Walling won the 2011 mayoral election, that Gov. Rick Snyder appointed an emergency financial manager to run the city.

On the witness stand, Walling testified on correspondence and conversations with state officials, emergency managers and others about switching from Detroit’s water system to a new pipeline, the Karegnondi, being built from Lake Huron to Genesee County.

But when asked by the plaintiffs’ attorney if any engineering firms said switching would not be “safe”. Walling responded “no.”

Walling is expected to continue testifying Tuesday.

The trial is expected to take as much as four months.

It’s referred to as a “bellwether trial”, since it may show how similar lawsuits may fare.

This case is unrelated to the $626 million settlement of civil claims against the state of Michigan, city of Flint, McLaren Flint Hospital and a local engineering firm.

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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