This article originally appeared on greatlakesnow.org
“Today is a good day for the city of Flint”. Those are words Flint residents haven’t heard for a very long time.
But that’s what Pastor Allen Overton with Concerned Pastors for Social Action said outside the Federal Courthouse in downtown Detroit after Judge David Lawson approved an 87 million dollar settlement that requires the state of Michigan and the city of Flint to replace 18,000 of the city’s lead-tainted pipes with copper pipes over the next three years. An additional 10 million dollars will be held in reserve if the pipes become more expensive or if more time is needed for construction.
In an interview with Great Lakes Now after the ruling, one of the plaintiffs in the case, Pastor Alfred Harris said, “I think we’re happy and now we know that not only can we climb out of this, but we can move on.”
Flint resident Melissa Mays, the Natural Resources Defense Council, The ACLU of Michigan and the Concerned Pastors for Social Action filed the lawsuit in January of 2016 to secure access to safe drinking water for the people of Flint. The plaintiffs said the state and the city violated the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
The city’s water became contaminated with lead in 2014, after an emergency manager decided to switch water sources, causing lead to leach from the pipes into the city’s drinking water.
“We are fighters, and we hope we can be a good example”
Melissa Mays, who founded the group “Water You Fighting For” praised the organizations that brought the lawsuit as well as the citizens of Flint for fighting to get what she says they should have had long ago: clean drinking water. “The one thing that happened here today is that Flint proved that even while poisoned… even while worried about surviving……that we’re not just victims. We are fighters. And we hope that we can be a good example for the rest of the cities and states in this country facing the same problem”.
Senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Dimple Chaudhary, and lead counsel in the case, called the judge’s decision a victory for the people of Flint, saying, “This is one step on the road to recovery. It’s not everything. But it’s a step in the right direction, and it really shows what citizens can do when they take the laws into their own hands.“
Much More Than New Pipes
The agreement does much more than just require new pipes. It orders the state to expand the filter installation and education program, and conduct door to door visits to Flint residents’ homes to make sure the filters are installed properly and are being used correctly. The state must also fund extensive tap water monitoring. Independent experts are required to check Flint resident’s water quality on a regular basis, too.
In addition, the settlement requires the state to guarantee that bottled water be available at distribution centers until September 1st of 2017.
The state must also fund a half-dozen medical programs to respond to the effects of lead exposure in Flint residents.
Michael Steinberg, legal director with the ACLU of Michigan, said, “Today this team scored a desperately needed win for the people of Flint who’ve been living for nearly 3 years with lead-laced water coming of their faucets.” He said, “Although it is appropriate today that we celebrate, it’s also appropriate that we think back and we recognize that the emergency manager law of this state is responsible for the Flint water crisis. There are government officials in Washington today who are talking about running governments based on this business model. They should look at Flint. Flint, Michigan is an exhibit of what happens when local people are stripped of their democratic rights, and they start running democracies like businesses. Emergency managers – in order to save a few bucks – ended up poisoning the people of Flint. And that’s wrong.”
Political Commitment Becomes Binding Legal Obligation
Sources close to the case tell Great Lakes Now one of the best outcomes of this settlement is that it converts political commitment to binding legal obligation.
Pastor Allen Overton with Concerned Pastors for Social Action told reporters after the Judge’s ruling: “It does not resolve everything. We will have lots of rebuilding to do. We are not done fighting.” (see GLN video of Pastor Allen Overton)
The settlement is being applauded by the Mayor of Flint, many Flint residents, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. But this Federal safe drinking water lawsuit is just one of more than five hundred lawsuits involving Flint’s water problems that have yet to be resolved.