Snyder set to sign $30M water bill in Flint Friday

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Gov. Rick Snyder told some Flint residents Thursday during a conference call that he would sign a $30 million piece of legislation Friday in the city giving them relief on their water bills.

The $30 million will be used to credit residents for 65 percent of the water portion of their bills from April 2014 through April 2016. Businesses will receive a credit for 20 percent of their bills.

The Republican governor said since the sewer system still works, residents are expected to pay for using it.

But “we can’t be charging people for water they can’t use,” he added.

Snyder said he and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver will work together on a way to put those credits through the water system. The credits will apply “until the water is safe again,” he said.

Two of the 11 callers offered Snyder words of encouragement; one said Snyder’s administration was doing a “heckuva job” in Flint.

But most Flint residents on the call were concerned about their health and their community’s future.

A caller who only identified herself as Julia, a Flint resident for 35 years, said she and her husband, a Flint resident for 45 years, would have left already if they weren’t tied to their house. She asked Snyder for a ballpark figure on when the water would be declared officially drinkable.

“We’re doing the testing now,” Snyder replied, referring to the 400 testing sites in a city where 12,000-plus water samples have been tested thus far.

“I can’t give you a date, and wouldn’t want to give a specific date,” he said, adding that science, not the calendar, will determine when the water is safe.

The governor was joined on the 45-minute call by Dr. Eden Wells, the state’s chief medical executive, Capt. Chris Kelenske of the Michigan State Police, and Keith Creagh, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

A man identified as Russell asked what the state would do about real estate values in Flint, which he said will be hurt by the water crisis, a reputation that will linger even after the lead issue is resolved.

Snyder said the immediate focus in Flint is on giving residents a safe water supply. In the long term, Snyder said, the plan is to bring jobs back, giving people a reason to live in the city again. Flint was where General Motors was founded, but the community has become poor as auto factories have moved elsewhere.

“We want you to have safe water,” Snyder said. “At the same time, let’s make a stronger economic backbone, so people want to live there, and home values go up.”

Amanda said she was turned away by her primary doctor when she tried to be tested for lead exposure.

“That shouldn’t be happening,” Snyder said, adding his team would follow up with her after the call ended.

A Snyder aide suggested Amanda, and others who want to be tested, call the United Way’s help line at 211.

One Flint resident, Patricia, has heard conflicting reports on how safe it is to have lead-tainted water on the skin and asked for clarity.

Wells answered that the danger of lead comes when it is ingested. She said normal showering, bathing, or swimming in the water is fine — “it’s so cold I can’t imagine that coming up,” Wells said of the swimming — but that spending time in the water increases the possibility of swallowing some accidentally.

Irene complained that the water in her home comes out “milky-looking,” and said her water tests revealed copper.

Wells said the human body actually uses copper for some nutrient functions, but that excess copper is a problem that can cause mild nausea or an upset stomach.

Creagh said that in the 12,252 water tests conducted in Flint so far, 12,200 of them revealed no elevated levels of copper. The state was working with residents of the homes that did show high copper levels, he said.

He urged people with copper in their water to conduct another test to be sure.