Trump to visit Flint ‘at some point’ in campaign

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Detroit — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Saturday he plans to make a trip to water crisis-stricken Flint “at some point” in the presidential election campaign.

Flint has been dealing with lead contamination in its drinking water since the state of Michigan officially recognized the problem in October 2015. Residents still can’t drink the water unless they use filters, and many still rely on shipments of bottled water.

Some Flint residents have complained of health problems they blame on drinking the water after the city, under a state-appointed emergency manager, shifted its water supply from the Detroit system to the Flint River. A task force appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder said the problem mainly occurred when the state Department of Environmental Quality decided the water didn’t need to be treated with corrosion control chemicals, and lead started leaching from the city’s pipelines.

“I think it’s a horror show that it was allowed to happen and to be honest with you it should have never, ever been allowed to happen,” Trump said Saturday in an interview with The Detroit News. “That was really the problem.”

Snyder has said he accepts responsibility for the crisis and for taking bad advice from what he now calls “so-called “experts.” The Republican governor also has not endorsed Trump, saying he won’t officially be backing any presidential candidate in the Nov. 8 election.

Trump spoke to The News after attending a church service at Greater Faith Ministries International on Grand River in Detroit as part of the Republican’s efforts to appeal to African-American voters.

“I will be visiting Flint,” Trump told The News. “This is a situation that would have never happened if I were president.”

The New York businessman is likely to face criticism in Flint just as he has received in Detroit because it is majority black city that is predominantly Democratic.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, who has endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton and lauded the candidate in a speech at the Democratic National Convention, blasted Trump’s appearance in Detroit.

“We are not fooled by this manufactured stop in Michigan,” Weaver said in a statement released by the Clinton campaign. “This is the same man who has talked down to us and falsely claimed that our entire community is poor, uneducated and unemployed. Donald Trump's lack of concern for our community is yet another reason he is unqualified and unfit for the presidency.”

Clinton visited Flint before the March 8 Michigan primary, and she and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont held a debate there on March 6. Clinton called for Snyder’s resignation at the Flint debate after Sanders had earlirer made the same call.

Despite making Flint a major emphasis in her campaign, calling the crisis “immoral,” she narrowly lost the March 8 primary to Sanders. Clinton overwhelmingly won among Flint and Detroit Democratic voters, but they showed up in much smaller numbers than the state’s record 34.5 percent participation among registered voters.

This is not the first time that Trump has acknowledged the Flint water crisis.

During a Jan. 19 campaign stop in Winterset, Iowa, Trump made brief remarks about the crisis in Flint. “Well, it’s a shame what’s happening,” he told reporters, according to NBC News.

“A thing like that shouldn’t happen but, again, I don’t want to comment on that,” he said then. “They’ve got a very difficult problem, and I know the governor’s got a very difficult time going. But you know, I shouldn’t be commenting on Flint.”

The Republican candidates didn’t make Flint a major issue during the primaries, and none of the GOP candidates visited the city before or after the March 8 Michigan primary that Trump won.

During Saturday’s interview with The News, Trump speculated that Flint’s crisis was the result of companies profiting from the city’s switch to the Flint River in April 2014 while a new pipeline to Lake Huron was being built.

“And probably they wanted it to happen because companies were going to make a lot of money from the switch,” Trump said. “That’s probably what happened, who knows?”

The Genesee County drain commissioner and others lobbied for the creation of the Karegnondi Water Authority because of rising water rates from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. When Flint committed to supporting the Karegnondi system, it decided to switch from the Detroit water system to the Flint River until the Karegnondi pipeline to Lake Huron was finished.

Attorney General Bill Schuette has sued a pair of engineering firms for allegedly allowing the Flint water contamination crisis to “occur, continue and worsen,” a claim the companies have denied and vowed to fight.

Schuette filed the civil lawsuit in Genesee County Circuit Court against Veolia North America and Lockwood Andrews & Newnam.

“They didn’t stop the water in Flint from being poisoned, they made it worse,” Schuette said at a June 22 press conference.

LAN argued the city of Flint and Michigan DEQ decided against using corrosion controls, not the company. Schuette’s office has argued that the company still has a professional responsibility to advise the city and state that they were making a mistake.