One lawsuit filed over the Flint water crisis has ended with a landmark settlement.
Federal Judge David Lawson officially signed off on a four-year deal that lays out a series of remedies for Flint’s lead-tainted tap water, and its lingering impacts.
In the short term, that includes keeping bottled water distribution centers open, and expanding efforts to make sure residents have properly installed water filters.
In the longer run, there are strict requirements for frequent water testing, detailed reporting, and water treatment protocols.
The state also agreed to guaranteed funding for measures to mitigate the linger effects of lead exposure, including expanded Medicaid coverage and children’s programs.
But the “unprecedented” part of the deal is the state’s pledge to remove all the city’s lead pipes in the next three years, a minimum $87 million commitment.
“There has never been a commitment, much less a legal commitment, to replace lead lines on this scale and in this period of time,” says Dimple Chaudhary, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council and the plaintiffs in this case.
The group Concerned Pastors for Social Action was one of the plaintiffs.
Pastor Allen Overton says they hope the settlement “helps heal the damage” that was done after state and Flint officials decided to switch water sources, botched the treatment, and misled the public about the extent of the damage it caused, including lead-leaching.
It will take more than this settlement to alleviate the “pain and suffering” caused Flint residents, Overton said.
But when it came to settling, “Here’s the key question for the Concerned Pastors: Does this settlement agreement leave the community better off than it was before? Yes it does,” Overton said.
Flint activist and fellow plaintiff Melissa Mays says the fight isn’t over. She points to lingering questions about possible bacterial contamination in Flint pipes, and the city’s plans to start shutting off water to delinquent customers, even though the water is still officially considered unsafe to drink without a filter.
Nonetheless, Mays says this settlement is “a win for Flint residents.
“This proves that even while poisoned, even while struggling for survival, that we’re not just victims,” May said. “We are fighters. And we hope that we can lead a good example for the rest of the cities and states in this country facing this problem, in a way that we can be proud of.”
The federal court will retain jurisdiction to make sure settlement’s terms are enforced.
While approving the settlement Tuesday, Judge David Lawson called it a “comprehensive, fair, reasonable deal” that “serves the public interest and furthers compliance with the [federal] Safe Drinking Water Act.”
Lawson also applauded Gov. Snyder for “taking the initiative” to settle the case, reach out to the court to pledge the cooperation and resources that made reaching an agreement possible.
Lawson acknowledged that only happened after the state fought his initial temporary order in the case, failing to ensure all Flint residents either had properly-installed water filters or received bottled water delivery. The state challenged Lawson’s order and appealed to the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but lost there.
In a statement, Gov. Snyder says the settlement “represents the best path forward for Flint’s full recovery.”