Flint may sue Michigan over water pollution crisis

Flint, Michigan Mayor Karen Weaver © Gary Cameron
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said she is not currently planning to sue the state of Michigan over her city’s water crisis, but she did file a “notice of intention” to do so. The announcement riled the Snyder administration and Republican lawmakers.

Mayor Weaver said Friday the filing was necessary to preserve the city’s right to sue the state in the future.

“It is my expectation that we can continue working with the state to help Flint recover from this water crisis,” Mayor Weaver said in a statement. “I called Governor Snyder today to re-affirm our commitment to work together for the benefit of the families of Flint.”

The Mayor’s announcement aggravated the Snyder administration and Republican lawmakers who are soon to debate additional assistance for the city.

The state legislature has approved $67 million in funding for Flint. House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) told reporters last week he would be open to further supplemental spending proposals once the state budget is completed in June.

House Speaker Cotter called the notice of intent “very unfortunate and very reckless on the part of the mayor.”

“I think that the mayor’s actions here could potentially blow up the state’s checkbook, and I think it’s going to have a real chilling effect on the House, as to providing any further resources in the interim,” Cotter told The Detroit News.

Republican Governor Rick Snyder has requested another $165 million for Flint, with $126 million recommended as supplemental funding in this fiscal year, and another $39 million recommended for next fiscal year that begins in October.

In a letter to Flint’s attorney sent on Friday, the Snyder administration asked for the notice to be withdrawn, “because it is factually and legally unsupported and it creates an unnecessary conflict between the parties that will damage ongoing efforts to resolve this crisis,” according to the Detroit News.

Mayor Weaver’s March 24 filing with the state Court of Claims cited “grossly negligent oversight” by the state Department of Environmental Quality, which made the decision not to require corrosion control chemicals, leading to lead leaching into the drinking water.

"As a direct and proximate result, the city has suffered or will suffer damage to its municipal water distribution system, emergency response costs arising out of the declaration of a state of emergency, attendant ongoing medical claims, lowered property values resulting in lower tax assessments, reputational damage" and other damages, Weaver wrote in the letter to the Michigan Court of Claims, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Flint’s attorney, Stacy Erwin Oakes, said the legal notice can be used to sue the state to cover all the legal bills that will likely arise from dozens of civil lawsuits against the city, because Snyder-appointed emergency managers switched the city of Flint to river water.

“All people have determined it wasn’t the fault of the residents of the city of Flint, therefore they should not have to pay the bill,” Oakes told The Detroit News. “It is our intent to continue to work with the state, the governor.”

Oakes also said suing the state could help cover legal representation for city employees being deposed in criminal investigations by the Genesee County Prosecutor, Attorney General and US Attorney’s Office in Detroit.