As President Obama Arrives in Flint, Residents Wonder Why the Delay

Flint Water Plant. CNN

Flint Water Plant. CNN

Flint residents wait with nervous anticipation Wednesday morning, as President Obama prepares for a scheduled visit to Flint.

Air Force One is expected to land at Flint’s Bishop International Airport. The president will head to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan shortly after, where he is expected to meet with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver for a briefing.

The White House announced the president’s travel plans last week in the form of a handwritten response to 8-year-old Mari Copeny, who had asked to meet with Obama in Washington during the Flint congressional hearings.

The arrival comes six months after Gov. Snyder first publicly acknowledged the water crisis and city officials declared a public health emergency — and four months after the President’s trip to nearby Detroit for the national auto show.

Flint residents want to know just what took so long.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the trip’s purpose was to reassure residents that the administration had not forgotten about them. “…to demonstrate that while the public discussion of this situation doesn’t retain the same spot in the limelight, the administration is committed to following through on helping that community recover,” Earnest told media representatives.

Earnest said the trip would further expose the role of Republicans in delaying relief efforts.

“We would certainly welcome a greater commitment, or frankly, any commitment from Republicans in Congress in responding to this situation,” Earnest said. “The reason that Congress has not acted on funding for Flint is because Republicans say they oppose it.”

Flint truck driver Jimmie Stephen told The New York Times the visit was a little too late.

“The EPA had a job to do, and they ignored it. None of the politicians have helped us. I think the community is just going to have to band together to resolve our problems.”

Residents filed a $220 million suit against the Environmental Protection Agency on April 25, claiming the federal agency was negligent in its response to the contamination crisis.

The claim said the EPA was alerted to the “massive environmental violation” on Oct. 14, 2014, in a notice sent by concerned resident Jan Burgess.

“The EPA heard the alarm bell loud and clear but chose to ignore the profound environmental and public health issues brought to its attention in the early stages of this disaster,” attorney Michael Pitt, said in a statement. “This agency attitude of ‘public be damned’ amounts to a cruel and unspeakable act of environmental injustice for which damages will have to be paid to the thousands of injured water users.”

Some residents are just happy to see the president, eager to be part of a historical moment. ABC 12 spoke with students at Northwestern High School, where he is scheduled to speak.

“I got excited. I jumped up. Everyone in class was like, ‘Dude, sit down,’ ” said Donta Hampton, who was among a select few chosen to appear in the audience. Hampton was unsure of what he might say, given the chance to speak.

“I would be [at] a loss for words. He’s a big person, so I would be at a loss for words. I want to hear something about change and the water crisis, like maybe he can lend us some money or something so we can fix the pipes,” Hampton said.

Mayor Weaver thought it was especially important for the president to meet with the city’s youngest population.

“One of the things we’ve always talked about is our young people are our resource. And we have to invest in them and we have to bring them to the table and hear what they have to say. And they’re the future leaders of tomorrow, so for all of those reasons, I think it’s a really good thing that he’s coming to Northwestern High School,” Mayor Weaver told ABC 12.

Leon El-Alamin, a community activist also selected to attend the Northwestern speech, said it was an “honor” and the visit would bring spotlight to the issue, regardless of the delay.

“I know he got a lot of criticism, it’s been two years and some people look at it as, ‘Where have you been?’,” he said. “At the end of the day, it continues to put the spotlight on our city…and I hope that we get some some action. It’s time for some real action and funding.”

The White House announced on Tuesday that the President would not be drinking the city’s tap water.

“I’m not aware of any photo ops that involve the president’s consumption of the water,” Earnest said at a press conference on Monday. “I certainly would encourage people to listen to the advice that they get from our scientific and public health experts,” Earnest said, stating, “The president will certainly follow that advice.”

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