Genesee expert: Flint water plant ‘out of control’

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Flint — The Flint Water Treatment plant was not ready to dispense drinking water to residents in 2014, and officials who authorized the switch could and should have returned to better, superior water from Lake Huron, a Genesee County drain official testified Friday.

David Jansen, the senior assistant director of the Genesee County Drain Commission, said at the criminal preliminary hearing of four Michigan Department of Environmental Quality employees that the treatment plant had myriad problems before it went online in April 2014. The water wasn’t treated with corrosion control chemicals and resulted in lead leaching from aging pipelines into the city’s drinking water.

Jansen, who is retiring after 16 years at the drain commission, described the plant almost immediately after the switch as “water out of control.” Public complaints and “bacteriological contamination reports” about the water should have precipitated a switch back to the Detroit area water system, he said.

“If you are asking me, in my opinion, would I have blessed the operation of the plant as its superintendent or manager? ... I would not have wanted to be the operator in charge of that plant on the day that it started to operate,” Jansen said in response to a question by Special Prosecutor Todd Flood. “There are concerns that I had.”

The red flags were evident, he said.

“The fact that you’re not able to control the organic loads coming in, that you’re creating Trihalomethanes but you’re having incidents of water out of control, creating biological hazards in the distribution system, suggests strongly that something is wrong either with the plant itself or the operation of the plant,” Jansen said.

“The physical ability to return to Detroit (area) water was available, as far as I understand, at any time that such arrangements were made through the county and the water providers of Detroit,” he added.

When asked if Flint should have switched back, Jansen said, “It seems reasonable,” but added it was an opinion given in hindsight.

The testimony continued in 67th District Court before Judge Jennifer Manley in the preliminary exam hearing for water regulators Stephen Busch, Michael Prysby, Patrick Cook as well as Liane Shekter Smith, the fired head of the DEQ division responsible for overseeing Flint’s water source switch.

Shekter Smith and Busch each had a charge of involuntary manslaughter added in June 2017. Attorney General Bill Schuette has accused them and four others of failing to alert the public about a 2014-2015 outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area that killed 12 people and sickened another 79 individuals.

Testimony from former Flint water utilities administrator Michael Glasgow wrapped up earlier in the day. Jansen echoed much of what Glasgow testified about the readiness of the plant.

The Gensee official said he learned first hand of Flint’s interest in switching to another water source at a meeting of 12 people in June 2013 attended by county and city officials as well as DEQ staffers Prysby and Busch.

Later, Jansen said he toured the treatment plant twice. He met workers there who also lacked some of the experience to run a treatment plant, especially one with problems.

When other state and Flint notables drank water when the Flint Water Treatment plant opened in 2014, Jansen said “I didn’t want to drink the water.” But he wasn’t “particularly concerned about it” without defining what he meant.

The Lake Huron water was better than the Flint River because river water would be harder with more “turbidity” than lake water.


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