State asks judge for quick action on Flint water choice

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — The state’s Department of Environmental Quality is asking a federal court to quickly decide whether it will force Flint to adopt a long-term contract with the Detroit area water authority to supply drinking water to city residents.

Lawyers for the state argue that repeated demands for the Flint City Council to approve a 30-year contract with the Great Lakes Water Authority for Flint water or selection of an alternative source have gone unmet, according to a summary motion filed Friday in federal court. The state alleges that the council’s inaction will endanger Flint residents and lead to huge cost increases for water utility payers.

“Despite repeated demands, the Flint City Council has refused to approve the agreement with GLWA or propose any other viable alternative water source,” the motion said.

“The City Council’s failure to act will result in at least a 55-63% increase in the water rate being charged to Flint residents, create an immediate risk of bankrupting the Flint water fund, will preclude required investment in Flint’s water distribution system, and create another imminent and substantial endangerment to public health in Flint.”

A top aide for Gov. Rick Snyder previously said stalling the contract decision costs Flint an extra $600,000 each month because it pays for two water sources — the Great Lakes Water Authority from which it currently gets its treated water and the Karegnondi Water Authority from which it contractually would get water by 2019 to 2020.

Under the 30-year deal with GLWA, Flint would no longer have to make payments to the KWA.

Support for the long-term deal by Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and Snyder has not encouraged the council to make a decision as it continues searching for the best possible option.

The state is now asking Detroit U.S. District Judge David Lawson to force the council’s hand and sign the contract because no other viable options exist to supply Flint with clean water exist, according to state filings.

But the city council denies the state’s allegations of any wrongdoing and says it needs more time to examine the best deal. In an answer to the state’s complaint filed on Aug. 8, lawyers for the Flint council argue that other options for the city do exist, although the court filing did not specify what they are.

The council maintains that “MDEQ has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be filed” and that “the alleged claims … are not ripe for judicial resolution,” wrote attorneys Peter and Joseph Doerr, who represent the council.

The DEQ argues that inaction poses an “imminent” threat to public health. But some legal experts say it may be difficult for the state to win the case, which came 15 months after a task force appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder accused the Republican administration and others in state government of “failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction and environmental injustice” in the contamination of Flint’s water supply.

Lead contaminated Flint’s water after Snyder-appointed emergency managers switched to the Flint River for city water and state officials did not require that corrosion control chemicals be applied. That allowed the corrosive river water to eat away at old lead lead pipes and flake into the water.

In court, the state is attempting to use a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency order that originally compelled the state to address Flint’s water issues as a justification for a court intervention against Flint’s city council on the Detroit area water contract.