DETROIT (CN) — Michigan has reached a preliminary $600 million deal with Flint residents to settle claims over the city’s water supply being contaminated with lead when the source was switched to the Flint River in a cost-cutting move approved by former Republican Governor Rick Snyder.
Under the agreement, Flint citizens and businessowners affected by poisoned water would be eligible for payments from a $600 million fund where 80% will be directed to victims who were under 18 years of age at the time of the crisis. The state would also create a dedicated fund to offer special education to those who developed long-term neurological damage from the dirty water.
“What happened in Flint should have never happened, and financial compensation with this settlement is just one of the many ways we can continue to show our support for the city of Flint and its families,” Democrat Governor Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement.
Several government departments will be parties to the settlement, including the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the state itself. All individual defendants will also be part of the agreement, including Snyder, who was succeeded by Whitmer in 2018.
A more detailed settlement is expected within 45 days, according to Secretary of State Dana Nessel, who released a summary of the agreement to news outlets.
"This settlement focuses on the children and the future of Flint, and the state will do all it can to make this a step forward in the healing process for one of Michigan’s most resilient cities," she said.
The agreement will be one of the biggest in state history and will involve more than 100 lawsuits filed on behalf of thousands of poisoned citizens.
Whitmer said in a statement that the state government is offering additional help with increased budgets for the beleaguered city’s ongoing nutrition programs, child health care services, early childhood programs, lead prevention and abatement, school aid and services to seniors.
The state also created the Office of the Clean Water Public Advocate and implemented stricter copper and lead standards for water contamination.
“We acknowledge that this settlement may not completely provide all that Flint needs, and that many will still feel justifiable frustration with a system and structure that at times is not adequate to fully address what has happened to people in Flint over the last six years,” Whitmer said. “We hear and respect those voices and understand that healing Flint will take a long time, but our ongoing efforts and today’s settlement announcement are important steps in helping all of us move forward.”
The settlement does not involve Veolia North American or Lockwood, Newnam & Andrews, the engineering consultants sued by the state for their work during the switch to Flint River water in 2014.
The crisis began when a state-appointed emergency manager switched the city's drinking water supply from Lake Huron water treated in Detroit to Flint River water treated at the Flint Water Treatment Plant. Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials admitted they failed to require needed corrosion-control chemicals as part of the water treatment process.
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