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County OKs Flint's state of emergency declaration

Jan 4, 2016

Flint’s state of emergency declaration is on its way to the governor’s office.

Genesee County Commission Chairman Jaime Curtis signs Flint state of emergency declaration
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Genesee County Commission approved the declaration for the city of Flint Monday.

The declaration is tied to elevated lead levels in the city’s drinking water.

The city’s action plan calls for $45 million to replace 15,000 lead transmission lines that connect Flint homes to the city’s water system.   It also asks for $6 million to help Flint connect to a new pipeline under construction from Lake Huron. 

Commission chairman Jamie Curtis says his county’s needs will not be ignored.

“This is a state man-made disaster,” says Curtis., “And we’re going to put together a comprehensive plan and we’re going to ask the state to fix their disaster.”

In April, 2014, the city switched from Detroit to the Flint River as the source of its tap water.  But city and state officials failed to address of the corrosiveness of the river water.   Researchers say the river water damaged water pipes, and the pipes eventually leeched high levels of lead into the drinking water.   The city switched back to Detroit water last fall.

However, health officials say the threat of lead exposure persists.

“Lead should never be in the body of a child,” Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha told county commissioners today.   She recently published a study in a national medical journal showing childrens' blood lead levels in some Flint neighborhoods have tripled. 

Health officials fear the lead problem will continue for years to come.

“It’s going to be pure hell,” is how County Commissioner Brenda Clark describes the effect on Flint schools, when infants who consumed formula made with lead-tainted water start kindergarten in a few years.

But coming up with a specific number for how much is needed to cover the health care costs is problematic.

Mayor Karen Weaver says that’s why they’ve drafted a “fluid” plan to address the issue as more information is gathered.

Weaver is scheduled to sit down with Gov. Snyder on Thursday.    It will be up to the governor to decide whether Flint’s water problems can be submitted to the Obama administration for a federal disaster declaration.  

The governor's office issued a statement after the county commission vote:

The health and welfare of Flint residents is a top priority, and we’re committed to working closely with Mayor Weaver and the Genesee County Commission on a coordinated response to health and infrastructure issues.

After the County Commission’s vote today, the Michigan State Police’s Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division is working with the Genesee County Emergency Management Coordinator to gather information about the resources needed for a Governor’s declaration.

The state police have been closely engaged in the situation since the beginning, meeting with both county and city leaders to guide them through state and federal laws regarding the emergency management process. Due to the uniqueness of this situation, we have to look at all possible options to help Flint residents.

But prior to a formal declaration, we are recognizing this as an emergency and are working with city and county leaders to coordinate efforts, streamline communication and tap all available resources at the state’s control.

Weaver plans to travel to Washington later this month to meet with federal officials.