Michigan Government Fights Judge’s Ruling to Deliver Water to Residents in Need, Calling it an ‘Unnecessary Burden’

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Photo by Rebecca Cook/Reuters.
Photo by Rebecca Cook/Reuters

The Michigan state government is hoping to wiggle its way out of a court-ordered mandate handed down by a judge last week requiring both the city and state to deliver bottled water to Flint residents without verified home water filters.

In a motion filed earlier this week, Michigan Gov. Rick Synder’s administration argued that the court-ordered requirement placed an ‘”insurmountable” burden on the state. Officials even likened the mandated water deliveries to a “Herculean” military operation that would cost the state government roughly $10.4 million a month and $125 million annually.

The Detroit News reported that Michigan Treasurer Nick Khouri and the Flint Receivership Transition Advisory Board on Thursday requested that U.S. Circuit Judge David M. Lawson “stay,” or halt, his order from last week while the state prepares to appeal. In its filing, the state argued that a temporary halt of bottled-water deliveries wouldn’t “irreparably harm” city residents.

The state’s request for a stay “inflicts more harm on a city that’s already hurting,” said Pastor Allen Overton, a member of local group Concerned Pastors for Social Action.

For the past two years, the residents of Flint have been forced to rely on bottled water and home water filters for drinking, bathing and cooking due to dangerously high lead levels in the city’s water. Nine water distribution sites have been set up around the city, but several residents have complained that they’re hard to get to. That’s when local organizations sued the state to force the government to deliver bottled water, Michigan Radio reported.

“The fact that such items are available does not mean that they are reliably accessible or effective in furnishing safe drinking water to every household,” Lawson wrote in his opinion last week. “Indeed, the endeavor of hunting for water has become a dominant activity in some Flint residents’ daily lives.”

The judge’s 37-page opinion required that four cases of water per resident be delivered to families that do not have properly installed and maintained faucet water filters. But state attorneys argued that the judge’s court order far exceeded “what is necessary to ensure Flint residents have access to safe drinking water.”

Democratic Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) bashed the Snyder administration for its efforts to block the court order and file an appeal.

“If the governor had made a Herculean effort to address this crisis from the start, they wouldn’t need to continue this legal maneuvering,” Ananich said in a statement Thursday, taking jabs at the state’s three-month delay in acknowledging elevated lead levels in the city’s water supply.

Michigan State Police Capt. Chris Kelenske, who is leading emergency response efforts in Flint, calculated that compliance with Judge Lawson’s order would cost the state at least $10.45 million a month: 394,540 cases of bottled water per week, 137 delivery trucks and drivers, additional warehouse staff and back-up distribution services from private corporations.

Still, Lawson ruled in favor of Flint residents still grappling with the crippling aftereffects of the state’s decision to switch from Detroit’s water supply to the Flint River in April 2014.

“It’s sad that the state of Michigan continues to disenfranchise the community of Flint,” said Pastor Overton, who also is a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the state. “What happened to Gov. Snyder’s pledge that he would work to fix Flint’s drinking water crisis?”

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