State appeals order for bottled water delivery in Flint

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

The state filed its notice of appeal on Monday of a federal court order requiring Michigan and Flint to deliver bottled water to all Flint city residents without verified filters at their homes.

Attorneys for Michigan Treasurer Nick Khouri and the Flint Receivership Transition Advisory Board filed the notice with U.S. District Judge David Lawson, informing him they are appealing his order to deliver the water door to door to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

Last last week, state attorneys said the order is unnecessary and places an “insurmountable” burden on state government. They asked Lawson to stay his order from Nov. 10 while they prepared an appeal.

Lawson’s order remains in effect, but Margie Kelly with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the organizations suing the state, said Monday no bottled water had been delivered door to door in Flint per the order.

Anna Heaton, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder, said on Monday the state is working on a plan for compliance and has been since the judge issued the order.

“We are continuing to deliver water and filters as requested — as we have been for months now — while working on the plan for the logistics to meet the order’s requirements,” Heaton said.

Lawson is giving attorneys for the defense council, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and Flint residents who sued state and city officials until Wednesday to file a response to the request for a stay.

State officials argued the court order would require a “Herculean effort” equivalent to a large-scale military operation and cost the state at least $10.45 million a month, or $125 million annually. For more than a year, Flint’s residents have been advised against drinking their tap water without a filter due to dangerously high lead levels.

In a 37-page opinion, Lawson ordered home delivery of four cases of water per resident each week unless state and city officials can verify each resident has a properly installed and maintained faucet water filter.

The delivery order “increases the scope of the state’s emergency response to an unnecessary and insurmountable degree, particularly in light of the injunction’s time constraints,” attorneys wrote.

The state currently distributes 77,996 cases of bottled water every three weeks through nine official distribution centers, community partners and limited home deliveries, according to a declaration filed Thursday by Michigan State Police Capt. Chris Kelenske, who is heading up the emergency response effort in Flint. Residents also obtain free filters, replacement cartridges and at-home water test kits at those sites.

Compliance with the court order would require an estimated 394,540 cases of bottled water each week, 137 delivery trucks and drivers, additional warehouse staff and supplementary distribution services from private companies.

Lawson’s preliminary injunction was sought by the defense council, the ACLU of Michigan and Flint residents who sued state and city officials to try to speed up the slow process of removing lead service lines blamed for contaminating the city’s water while transporting corrosive river water for 18 months.