New Emails from Governor’s Office Reveal Lack of Transparency over Flint

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder?s office released new emails over the weekend related to his administration?s handling of Flint?s contaminated water system. The emails revealed that some of Snyder?s top advisors advocated switching Flint’s drinking water away from the highly corrosive Flint River more than a year before the crisis became serious.

Snyder acknowledged lead poisoning of Flint’s drinking water around Oct. 1, 2015, but has faced strong criticism for not declaring a state of emergency in Flint and Genesee County until more than three months later, on Jan. 5.

In one email dated Oct. 14, 2014, Valerie Brader, the governor?s deputy legal counsel and senior policy adviser, reached out to Snyder?s top aids expressing concern about Flint?s water system, CNN reported Sunday.

?As you know there have been problems with the Flint water quality since they left the (Detroit Water and Sewerage Department), which was a decision by the emergency manager there,? Brader wrote. ?I am not sure who is the best person to initiate the conversation with the (emergency manager), but I see this as an urgent matter to fix.?

The email was addressed to Dennis Muchmore, Snyder?s then-chief of staff, and three other top aides, including Michael Gadola, who also provided the governor legal counsel.

Minutes after receiving Brader’s email, Gadola wrote: ?To anyone who grew up in Flint as I did, the notion that I would be getting my drinking water from the Flint River is downright scary.?

He ended with a comment about the emergency manager, who has been blamed for making the decision to switch the supply from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Flint River:

?Too bad the [emergency manager] didn’t ask me what I thought, though I’m sure he heard it from plenty of others,? Gadola wrote.

?My mom is a city resident. Nice to know she’s drinking water with elevated chlorine levels and fecal coliform. I agree with Valerie. They should try to get back on the Detroit system as a stopgap ASAP before this thing gets too far out of control.?

Fecal coliform is usually harmless, but can cause diarrhea, dysentery and hepatitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The email exchange is dated six months after the water supply switch, a decision made by emergency manager Edward Kurtz, who was appointed by the governor. Kurtz has been blamed for making the decision to switch the water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River as a cost-saving measure.

Protocol for Emergency Declaration

Also a subject of confusion throughout the email communication was when Snyder was able to declare a state of emergency in order for the state to take control of the situation. Snyder officials have repeatedly said the governor could not take the action until local officials declared an emergency, and Genesee County did not take that action until?Jan. 4.

But according to the new emails released ? the Detroit Free Press reported ? in a Nov. 13 email, Capt. Chris Kelenske of the Michigan State Police (MSP), who is the deputy state director of emergency management and Homeland Security, told an official in Snyder’s office: ?As you know, the Governor can declare at any time for any reason.?

Kelenske, in the e-mail to the governor?s office, then went on to set out the pros and cons of Snyder declaring an emergency before the local officials?did.

?The state will formally own the event if we put a Governor’s Declaration in place,? Kelenske wrote. ?This could be viewed as the state having owned up to how the water issue was caused.? And admitting that ?the triggering event??was caused by the state, he said.

Ari Adler, a spokesman for Snyder, said Sunday that legally the governor can declare an emergency at any time, but usually that only happens if there is a single dramatic event, such as a tornado, and it is immediately apparent that local resources won’t be enough to handle it. That wasn’t the case in Flint, because facts unfolded slowly and it was not immediately clear how significant the catastrophe was, according to Adler.

When asked why Snyder officials repeatedly said the governor had to wait until the local officials?acted, Adler said he can only assume that was the result of ?a misunderstanding,? the Free Press reported.

The Jan. 5 emergency declaration made all state resources available to help Flint and opened the door to federal funding.

Flint?s drinking water supply was first contaminated with lead starting in April 2014 when the city, while under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager, switched the source of supply from Lake Huron water supplied by the City of Detroit to Flint River water treated at Flint?s?city treatment plant. Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials have acknowledged they made a mistake when they failed to require the needed corrosion control chemicals to be added to the water.

As a result, lead leached from pipes and fixtures into the drinking water and tests showed lead levels spiked in the blood of some?Flint children. Although the city switched back to Detroit water in October, officials say the potential for harm continues because of damage done to Flint’s water distribution infrastructure.

Some information contained in this update was first reported by the Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News and CNN.

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