Snyder to appeal Obama’s denial of Flint disaster zone

Chad Livengood and Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder intends to appeal the Obama administration’s denial of a major disaster declaration in Flint that blocked the governor’s request for $96 million in federal aid for bottled water, faucet filters and replacing lead-leaching pipes.

The move comes as more national attention turns to Flint. On Sunday, civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson added his voice to the growing chorus of criticism of Flint’s water crisis, calling the city a ‘crime scene.’

“We should have ... tape around the city because Flint is a crime scene,” Jackson said to a packed house at Heavenly Host Baptist Church in Flint. “The people of Flint have been betrayed.”

President Barack Obama declared a federal emergency in Flint on Saturday, but denied Snyder’s request to designate Flint a disaster zone because the city’s water contamination was a man-made calamity.

“We’re planning to appeal,” Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said Sunday. “We want to exhaust every opportunity to bring potential resources to Flint.”

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator W. Craig Fugate, in a letter to Snyder, said his request for a major disaster declaration was denied because the water contamination “does not meet the legal definition of a ‘major disaster’” under federal law.

“The incident was not the result of a natural catastrophe, nor was it created by a fire, flood or explosion,” Fugate said.

Snyder is planning to send the Legislature a supplemental funding request to pay for the escalating costs associated with Flint’s lead-contaminated water crisis, Murray said.

Obama’s emergency declaration comes with $5 million in federal aid.

“I have pledged to use all state resources possible to help heal Flint, and these additional resources will greatly assist in efforts underway to ensure every resident has access to clean water resources,” Snyder said Saturday in a statement.

Flint’s water contamination stems from a 2013 decision by a Snyder-appointed emergency manager to temporarily use Flint River water until the city could hook up to a new regional water pipeline that doesn’t go online until later this year.

Not a ‘cap on assistance’

If FEMA exceeds the initial $5 million in emergency federal funds, Obama must alert Congress if additional resources are needed.

“It should not be viewed as a cap on their assistance,” said Shanon Banner, spokeswoman for the Michigan State Police. “We’re working closely with FEMA to detail our needs and determine how they can best assist us.”

The federal government will cover 75 percent of the costs for additional water, water filters, filter cartridges, water test kits and other related items for up to 90 days. The state is expected to cover 25 percent of the cost.

Since Jan. 9, state workers, troopers, National Guard members and volunteers have distributed more than 26,500 cases of water, 50,200 water filters, more than 167,000 water filter replacement cartridges and about 4,700 water-testing kits, according to Snyder’s Office.

In Snyder’s expedited request for a major disaster declaration, the governor asked for up to $96 million for water, supplies and to help residents replace lead pipes on private property.

Documents show the Snyder administration’s original request included:

■ $54.6 million for the repair of damaged lead service lines on private property.

■ $10.3 million for 90 days of water.

■ $31 million for a year’s worth of filters and other water supplies for all Flint residents.

Snyder has 30 days to appeal FEMA’s denial of a major disaster denial to Obama, Fugate said.

The president’s emergency declaration authorizes FEMA to identify, mobilize and provide equipment and resources “necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency” on Genesee County residents, according to the White House.

FEMA’s David G. Samaniego will serve as the federal coordinating officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area, and the president is also offering assistance to help identify other ways the federal government could support the recovery effort beyond the emergency declaration.

Snyder’s request for federal aid was supported by Michigan’s 16-member congressional delegation, except Grand Rapids-area Republican Rep. Justin Amash.

“I welcome the president’s quick action in support of the people of Flint after months of inaction by the governor,” U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, said in a statement. “The residents and children of Flint deserve every resource available to make sure that they have safe water and are able to recover from this terrible man-made disaster created by the state.”

‘Snyder must step up’

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, also welcomed the president’s action.

“I am committed to working with my colleagues in Congress, the administration and state and local leaders on the ground in Flint to secure federal support for the residents of Flint,” Peters said in a statement, “but the state of Michigan and Gov. Snyder must step up and provide the necessary resources to deal with the long-term effects of water contamination.”

Democrats have been harping on the Republican governor to seek federal disaster aid since he declared a state of emergency Jan. 5 in Flint over the crisis, which stems from switching the city’s source of drinking water from the Detroit water system to the Flint River in April 2014.

At Heavenly Host Baptist on Sunday, state Rep. Woodrow Stanley, D-Flint, drew raucous applause when he told the crowd: “Somebody needs to go to jail.”

“Right now, the water issue is the cause célèbre,” he said. “Everyone wants to come to Flint because it’s on the front page. But it’s not always going to be on the front page. Flint is a city without a safety net. We had failing schools before we had a water crisis. We had high unemployment.”

Resident Melissa Mays, 37, said she suffered rashes and hair loss shortly after the water supply was changed. She said it’s also had an effect on her children.

“I’m going through a slew of health problems,” she said. “My children get sick every time someone sneezes. As a mother, I’m angry. Every day I have to keep my kids safe from the tap.”

Mays was among the original group of residents pointing out problems in the water. “We found high levels of copper and lead in April,” she said, adding that she printed fliers and went door-to-door, “to warn people about this problem.”

“The citizens worked with Virginia Tech to do the testing,” Mays said. “They called us crazy. They called us liars. They said we were just a bunch of bored moms who needed something to do. The message here is, listen to your citizens.

“Everyone has a story. These stories need to be heard. All this boiled down to, we were poisoned because the emergency manager took democracy away. We are not disposable people. The people who did this need to be held accountable.”

On Sunday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Snyder should have sought federal assistance “weeks ago,” and Saturday, another Democratic presidential candidate, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, called for Snyder’s resignation.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality admitted it failed to force the city to treat the water with corrosion controls, which caused old lead connections to leech. All of Flint’s children have been exposed to the lead contamination, Michigan Chief Medical Executive Dr. Eden Wells said last week.

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