Tuesday Morning: #FlintWaterCrisis Hearing Today

This is a semi-special morning roundup edition due to this morning’s Congressional hearing on #FlintWaterCrisis. Details:

Tuesday 15-MAR — 10:00 AM — Hearing on Flint, Michigan Water Contamination (est 3 hours, on C-SPAN3)
Former Flint, Michigan Mayor Dayne Walling, former Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman, and Virginia Tech University’s Marc Edwards testify at a House Oversight Committee hearing on water contamination in Flint.  Link to House Oversight Committee calendar entry

If you don’t catch today’s hearing, there will be another on Thursday morning:

Thursday 17-MAR — 9:00 AM — Gov. Snyder (R-MI) & EPA Head McCarthy: House Hearing on Flint, MI Water Crisis (est 3 hours, on C-SPAN3)   Link to House Oversight Committee calendar entry

You can find my timeline on Flint’s water here — it still needs a number of new entries.* Of particular note today will be the first half of 2014 when the decision to cut over from Detroit’s water (DWSD) to the Flint River was finalized and enacted, under then-Emergency Manager Darnell Earley. Earley was the third EM appointed to Flint after December 2011; he had been preceded by Michael Brown (twice) and Ed Kurtz (once).

You’ll recall that Michigan implemented an emergency manager law in 2011, allowing the state to appoint an administrator for insolvent municipalities. The EM law eliminated the powers of democratically elected municipal officials, vesting those powers and more in the appointee.

Reports this morning based on initial assessments of Darnell Earley’s written statement for the hearing today indicate Earley was overwhelmed by the demands of the EM role in Flint, and he regrets not having pushed back more firmly on decisions about the water cut-over.

However, the timeline reveals that in early 2013 a previous EM Ed Kurtz actually signed the decision to buy water from the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) when it completed construction. Kurtz also notified the DWSD that Flint would leave in one year’s time, in spite of a last-minute emailed offer on April 15, 2013 from DWSD offering a rate far cheaper than the rate Flint was paying in 2013, and possibly cheaper altogether than the KWA rate.

Did EM Ed Kurtz see this email? If he did, why was it ignored? If he didn’t, why not?

Ditto for Darnell Earley — did he know there was an offer from DWSD making the KWA potentially irrelevant or redundant?

Why wasn’t Flint able to accept the DWSD’s cheaper rate from 2013 through to cut-over to the KWA upon the pipeline’s completion as a stop-gap, avoiding the debacle cutting over to the Flint River created?

Why was there so much pressure on development and implementation of the KWA, to the point that cheaper water from DWSD was ignored?

Michigan blogger Mark Maynard asked whether the KWA was really established to serve fracking wells in counties through which the pipeline ran from Lake Huron to Flint (see here and here). I would love to know if anybody has FOIA’d documents from the state, Flint, and the KWA regarding containing any of the search terms [fracking, hydraulic fracturing, wells, oil, natural gas, injection, energy].

We already know the state wasn’t paying much attention (ahem) to fracking in northern Michigan; did they turn a blind eye to both bid rigging up north, and the development of water resources in eastern Michigan?

Get your popcorn maker out and ready for 10:00 a.m. EST. You know what I’ll be doing — join me.

UPDATE — 8:25 a.m. EST —
I do have one more question I’d ask Darnell Earley about early 2014. Knowing the city’s water would be cut over from DWSD to KWA in April, were there any tests conducted prior to the date DWSD was cut off as a source? In other words, did Flint River water enter the Flint water system anytime BEFORE the end of the contract with DWSD? Or was the city simply supposed to assume the cut over would work without fail?

I’d like to see when Genesee County Health Department first noticed changes in health services required, along with any anonymized health service data from hospitals serving Flint residents. Would the health data show illness in sync with the official cut-over to river water — or earlier?

UPDATE — 2:20 p.m. EST —
Drive-by impressions after hearing:

  • Didn’t get answers to my questions. Also, Earley should have been asked whether Snyder, as his boss, 1) asked him to limit contact with public for feedback, or 2) if it was clear going into EM role that public feedback should be limited, and 3) if it had been made clear by governor to Earley that financial concerns overrode all others in performance of EM duties.
  • Susan Hedman’s testimony helter-skelter, did not improve impression of her ability as a regulator. She’s still on the hot seat. Email cited in hearing from EPA’s Region 5 Water Division Branch Chief Debbie Baltazar which said, “I’m not so sure Flint is the community we want to go out on a limb for” did not help Hedman’s case whatsoever.
  • Do not recall any mention of Legionnaire’s cases during questioning, though contamination was mentioned. Not good — lot of important focus on lead poisoning, but to forget about deaths due to this crisis?
  • C-SPAN cameras caught Dr. Marc Edwards giving interviews after hearing ended; he told interviewers Flint’s water was safe for bathing (non-consumption hygiene purposes), but could not say when Flint’s water was safe to drink because of testing still underway across Flint.

Ugh. Thursday’s hearing will be must-see TV.
__________
* Sorry, harpie, I still have to follow up with the additional links you’ve shared recently.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.
18 replies
  1. martin says:

    quote”Why was there so much pressure on development and implementation of the KWA, to the point that cheaper water from DWSD was ignored?”unquote

    “At the height of a political corruption trial, the prosecuting attorney attacked a witness. “Isn’t it true,” he bellowed, “that you accepted five thousand dollars to compromise this case?”

    The witness stared out the window, as though he hadn’t hear the question.

    “Isn’t it true that you accepted five thousand dollars to compromise this case?” the lawyer repeated loudly.

    The witness still did not respond.

    Finally, the judge leaned over and said, “Sir, please answer the question.”

    “Oh,” the startled witness said, “I thought he was talking to you.”

  2. harpie says:

    Thanks for doing all the work, Rayne! I’m pissed that I won’t be able to follow the hearing today, but am really looking forward to catching up with your tweets and comments later.

    I have been wanting to mention the following [but I just realized I waited too long]:

    [Quote] GENESEE COUNTY DRAIN COMMISSION APPLICATION FOR A WATER WITHDRAWAL FROM LAKE HURON; 8/28/2009
    http://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/deq-wb-dwehs-wwciu-gcdclqwwpermitresponsepubliccomment_290345_7.pdf

    Huh! I have in my notes: “The document tab says “Perrier Bottle Water Plant”, but today, the tab does NOT say that.

  3. Rayne says:

    harpie (9:21) — Ah fooey! I’m sorry you’ll miss all the fun! Do me a favor and make sure your website/email contact info connected to your emptywheel account are up to date, I may ping you about this stuff. ;-)

    And nice catch on the Perrier bit…probably need to screenshot anything sketchy on sight going forward given so much data already gone walkabout.

    • harpie says:

      Hi Rayne…sounds like it was a hoot! [only kidding]. I enjoyed the notes, and hope to listen to the whole thing this evening. I don’t think I have an emptywheel account. :-/ How do I do that? I also have no idea how to get a “screenshot”. [I obviously am only partially computer literate.] I didn’t realize there has been a lot of stuff gone walkabout…not only illiterate but naive! ugh.

  4. Rayne says:

    [10:15 am] Rep. Chaffetz has his righteous indignation on now as hearing starts, but will he pull punches because party line? Hmm.

    [10:23 am] Rep. Cummings has already interviewed former EM Jerry Ambrose, wants to interview former EM Ed Kurtz. Says no info from studies pre-cut-over to Flint Water showing water would be safe. (yeah, that…where’s the data showing water from Flint River would be safe, let alone comparable to DWSD?)

  5. Rayne says:

    [10:35 am] former EPA employee Susan Hedman wrapped up her statement. Believe Flint resident LeeAnne Walters was sitting behind her to Hedman’s right; she was visibly skeptical during Hedman’s comments.

    [10:35 am] former EM Darnell now offering his remarks. Hmm. Like Hedman, says he was vilified. Now says switch to KWA was a local decision, voted by Flint (yeah, except this vote was non-binding due to the Emergency Manager law; only EM could make contracts). Explained water treated for TTHM, unaware there was a lead issue — which means Earley, at a minimum, was not advised of the systemic issues related to changes in water chemistry.

    [10:44 am] former Flint mayor Dayne Walling says EM focused too much on cost, regulators withheld risks, Snyder discounted concerns and blew off citizens. Points out no public input accepted wrt study+switch to Flint River water, and vote by local officials to switch to KWA did not address switch to Flint River in any way (non-binding anyhow). Relied on MDEQ and appointed public works for info; his family drank water along with rest of city, relied on bad info. Asked for transparency‌ in Jan 2016; only operational reports released, not lead content.

    [10:51 am] Marc Edwards VA-Tech Enviro+Water Resources Professor now giving his statement. Says EPA has tolerated cheating w/falsified reports on Lead and Copper rule since 2006, not just in Michigan but in Washington DC and rest of country. Unable to get EPA to change its practice. Dumbfounded by EPA’s Gina McCarty’s op-ed yesterday which absolved EPA from any role in Flint water crisis. Landlords punished more for these kinds of practices than EPA regulators.

    [10:56 am] (f+cking dirtbag*) Rep Tim Walberg now interviewing Hedman, “you think EPA had nothing to do with crisis in Flint?” Hedman says no. Asked why EPA reg not enforced; Hedman says there was a jurisdicational bar, state and city to act first. (Walberg: this is YOUR job as a legislator–the law is not clear when EPA engages, even if morally/ethically EPA should have engaged sooner.) Asked about Del Toro and EPA’s actions toward him; interviewed Del Toro this past weekend.

    [11:02 am] Rep. Maloney asking Walling about Earley’s remarks that use of Flint River as inherent in Flint city council deliberation and vote to join KWA. Walling says no, it wasn’t. Switch to Flint River does not appear in document shared with Flint council which Maloney displays. Maloney now asking about delegation of responsibilities to Walling from Earley; Walling says they weren’t his, decisions were made by EMs. Maloney asks if EM had power to keep DWSD water–Walling says yes.

    [11:07 am] Rep. Amash up, now asking about an op-ed Earley wrote, in which Earley said it wasn’t up to him to second guess/question/invalidate actions of previous EMs. Earley says with 18 month window to turn around distressed city, focus was on getting stuff done.

    [11:15 am] Rep. Norton asking Earley about complaints about water quality, did Earley seek money to remedy? kind of vague here…Earley says they sent out city water people to check quality, relied on MDEQ assessment of water safety.

    (* Yeah, I do NOT like Walberg, who only shows up on the job when it makes him look good, not when it actually helps anybody in Michigan except for his corporate overlords, I mean, donors. And I live in Michigan.)

  6. Rayne says:

    [11:21 am] Rep. Mica complains about the fingerpointing, “mayor throwing people under the bus.” (Dude, the mayor was screwed over, his family poisoned, thanks to EM law in this state. Shove your bus.) Looking at response to memo by EPA’s Miguel Del Toro by EPA Region 5’s Hedman, faults failure by EPA to follow up on corrosion control.

    [11:27 am] Rep. Clay says safety of water incl bacterial contamination in summer 2014 should have encouraged return to DWSD, but Earley’s communications show financial goals precluded switchback. Earley said another expert had been hired to diagnose the problem, there wasn’t the money. Clay asks about common sense (hey, the state wasn’t going to pony up any money, that’s why there were EMs). Back and forth about the money, which Flint did not have. Earley had to clarify lead did not become evident during his administration, was dealing with watermain breaks, bacteria. General Motors’ rejection of water just touched on, time’s up.

    [11:33 am] Rep. Chaffetz takes some time to ask Hedman about the TTHM situation. Now asking Walling why he went on TV to assure water was safe, who assured him? MDEQ, EPA. Now asking Edwards, reiterates Hedman’s email — Edwards says Hedman apologized for Del Toro’s memo. She rebuts, says she apologized for slow reply due to being out.

    [11:36 am] Chaffetz asking about Walling going on TV about water’s safety to drink. Walling asked White House for a point of contact with the EPA, and White House sent him to Hedman. (jeebus…)

  7. Rayne says:

    [11:41 am] Rep Connolly not happen that so much blame has gone on EPA, plenty of blame to go around. Going after Earley about decisions made before his time as EM (decision to use Flint River water) and problems after (lead content in water). Did MDEQ have multiple emphatic warnings from EPA? Earley says no. Now asking Hedman if EPA offered MDEQ warnings. Hedman says EPA told MDEQ repeatedly, emphatically, urgently to implememt corrosion control.

    [11:47 am] (oh jeebus, again?) Walberg refers to talking with Edwards this past Saturday, asks what’s being done now. (Note Walberg has now 2X referred to this past weekend and no effort he has made as a Michigan rep before then. Slacker.) Edwards says testing has been under way, sampling homes; says past problems elsewhere made it clear not enough sampling had been done. Edwards wants bill passed to fund replacement of infrastructure; Flint has beaucoup lead lines.

    Have to drop off here, sorry…probably best for my blood pressure.

    Edit: I want to make clear how effed up it is to me to see Tim Walberg sitting in on this hearing today, looking into EPA’s inadequacy and failures, when Walberg actively undermines the EPA. Do a Google search for terms [“tim walberg” michigan EPA -flint] and note the positions Walberg has taken against the EPA’s regulatory powers. See also this and this.

  8. Rayne says:

    [12:10 pm] Hopping back on briefly in middle of Rep Cumming’s question to Earley about corrosive water rusting new parts and Earley’s lack of concern. To be fair, newly machined raw steel parts don’t need much to begin showing rust, and it might actually take more science than a kindergartener has to ask the right questions about the level of water’s corrosivity. Especially if the state’s yes men are acting like nothing important is going on with Flint’s water.

    [1:09 pm] Checked back in, caught the surprise on Flint resident LeeAnne Walters face behind Susan Hedman when Hedman said EPA had been working on communications w/public. Glad Walters is there.

  9. Bardi says:

    Rayne : Take it easy. We need you.

    My understanding.
    The MDEQ works for the state. The EPA works for the Federal Government. The EPA is precluded from interfering, unless asked by the state.

    Did the MDEQ ever formally ask the EPA for help?

  10. harpie says:

    Did you know about this EM Resolution addition to the LAN contract?
    http://www.docfoc.com/order-to-move-to-flint-river-water
    ***
    […] Presented: 11/14/13
    Adopted: 11/18/13
    By The Emergency Manager:
    Resolution Authorizing Change Order # 2 to the Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam Contract for the Implementation of Water Plant Operations
    […]
    Summary of Proposed Action:
    The City of Flint entered into a contract with Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam to study the feasibility and develop cost estimates for utilizing the Water Plant as a primary drinking water source in an amount not to exceed $171,000.00. The Utilities Department is requesting authorization to enter into change order # 2 to the existing contract no. 13-046 with Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam in the amount of $962,800.00 for additional services. These services will include final design work, construction engineering and necessary regulatory submittals to operate the Water Plant off the river until the KWA water source is completed. […]

  11. harpie says:

    I looked through this class action lawsuit [3/7/16] for references to LAN and corrosion control:
    ***
    Class Action Lawsuit 3/7/16
    http://media.clickondetroit.com/document_dev/2016/03/07/Flint%20class%20action%20lawsuit%20March%207%202016_2389062_ver1.0.pdf
    [Newnam is MISSPELLED Newman throughout]
    ***
    LAN [see #81; #82; #92 [“Analysis of the Flint River as a Permanent Water Supply for the City of Flint” (the 2011 Feasibility Report)] ; #97; #98 [Flint River water “highly corrosive and could not be used without proper corrosion controls in place at the Flint Water Treatment Plant.”] through #109 [ “The LAN Defendants failed to ensure that the upgraded Flint Water Treatment Plant would treat Flint River water with proper corrosion controls before it was released for consumption, which is contrary to water quality standards, the standard of care of similarly situated and experienced engineers, and common sense.” ]; #111; #112; #128; #134; #144; #157; #206-208; Twelfth Cause of Action: Professional Negligence (as against the LAN defendants): #317 through #333 [especially #323 and #327]; #336

    • wayoutwest says:

      Have any names of the people who actually made the decision to not treat the Flint River water for corrosion been exposed or is this lawsuit a scattergun aimed at everyone involved?

      The Hail Mary cheap water offer from DWSD that was rejected by the Flint EM just before the switch does show clearly that DWSD was price gouging Flint for many years and this admission may have increased doubt about their integrity or ability to deliver water at the reduced price for long before returning to price gouging.

      • harpie says:

        The Engineering company, Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, which was hired and paid by the City [EM Early, Ambrose and Bade]
        ***
        [quote] “to operate the Water Plant off the river until the KWA water source is completed” [end quote]
        ***
        did NOT insure that the water from the Flint River would be treated with ortho phosphates or some other anti-corrosive chemical. That is indeed “contrary to water quality standards, the standard of care of similarly situated and experienced engineers, and common sense”.
        ***
        In other words, professional negligence.

        • harpie says:

          CORRECTION: Just to be clear, Lan was hired to make the plant operational, not to “operate the plant”, per se.

          • wayoutwest says:

            It seems the ambulance chasers are more interested in squeezing money out of LAN using guilt by association than discovering who made the critical operational decisions about not treating Flint River water for corrosion after LAN finished their technical work.

            Claiming that LAN had to ‘insure’ proper treatment of the water is a diversion from the responsibility of the ‘operators’ to do their job correctly.

            • harpie says:

              “Claiming that LAN had to ‘insure’ proper treatment of the water is a diversion from the responsibility of the ‘operators’ to do their job correctly.”

              ***
              That is not the case.

              The engineering company IS responsible for the design of the specific water treatment process for all water which will be consumed by the public.
              ***
              The engineering company IS responsible for making sure the treatment processes it designs and implements will produce water which conforms to all health and safety standards.
              ***
              By not specifying the use of systemic corrosion control chemicals, [“which is contrary to water quality standards, [and] the standard of care of similarly situated and experienced engineers”], the engineering company, LAN was professionally negligent and caused great harm to the public.

              • wayoutwest says:

                I understand why the lawyers are attempting this tactic because there is probably little if any payday from suing the administrators and regulators who made this critical decision.

                I did find an email reported in the freep from Sept 3 sent by Howard Croft, Flint Public Works Director stating that they , LAN and DEQ discussed the issue and that the officials decided to not add the corrosion inhibitors because of possible bacterial growth. LAN was not in a position of authority to make this decision and their work on the system did not include water quality/lead optimization issues just the facilities to properly treat the water.

                The hearing yesterday shows the ‘Officials’, local and federal, are lawyered up and sandbagging their defenses pointing their fingers at anyone but themselves to take the blame.

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