Flint residents request meeting with Snyder in D.C.

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Washington – About 150 Flint residents are traveling here this week to hear Gov. Rick Snyder’s congressional testimony on the water contamination crisis in their city, and five families already here have requested a meeting with the governor.

“I think it’s sad that we obviously live in his same state, but we’re still trying to get a meeting with him, and now we’ve come to D.C. to ask him again,” Keri Webber said Wednesday after detailing health problems experienced by her husband and two kids. “He will not come out of his office and face us. We always get an aide. He will not look any of us in the face.”

Webber is one of 10 Flint residents — five women and their families — who flew to the capital Monday evening with the help of the AFL-CIO. They discussed life without safe tap water Wednesday at the union group’s headquarters and were joined via remote video feed by actor and water activist Mark Ruffalo.

Prior to departing, the so-called “Flint Five” sent Snyder a letter requesting an opportunity to share their stories and concerns in person. Weber accused Snyder of “sneaking” into Flint for press appearances that she and other residents only learn about after he’s gone.

“The governor’s schedule in D.C. did not allow for this meeting to happen,” Snyder spokesman Ari Adler said Wednesday, noting the governor has held telephone town halls.

Snyder publicly apologized to Flint residents in his State of the State address. Some of his top cabinet members are now working in the city, including Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and Transformation Manager Rich Baird.

The governor has discussed the crisis with tens of thousands of households through a series of telephone town halls, but northside resident Nakiya Wakes said she has stopped participating after a call screener rejected her question.

“I wanted to ask the governor: How would you feel if it was his daughter drank this water?” said Wakes, who said her son and daughter have both tested positive for lead exposure. “I never did get in, so I hung up.”

Other unions and affiliated partners are sending three busloads of Flint residents to Capitol Hill for the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s third hearing on the Flint water crisis.

Sam Inglot, a spokesman for liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan, said at least 150 riders have been confirmed.

Snyder is expected to testify Thursday alongside federal Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy.

Federal and state regulators came under fire Tuesday during a hearing that featured former EPA Region 5 chief Susan Hedman, former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley and former Mayor Dayne Walling.

The state failed to ensure corrosion control treatments were added to Flint River water when the city began using it in April 2014, and the federal agency did not alert the public when one of its own scientists began to sound alarms over elevated lead levels in Flint drinking water.

Ruffalo, who founded a group called Water Defense that is focused on providing water quality data to residents in contamination zones, called Flint “a canary in a coal mine” and praised the residents for traveling to D.C.

“These are the voices of the people, and they have to be listened to,” he said.

joosting@detroitnews.com