Task Force Lays Out Work |Still to Come for Flint, Mich.

     LANSING, Mich. (CN) – More than half of the recommendations announced Wednesday to address the poisoned-water crisis in Flint, Mich., are already underway, Gov. Rick Snyder said.
     Dogged by calls for his resignation for delaying action amid reports of lead in Flint’s water supply, Snyder said he convened a task force to study the crisis in October 2015.
     The task force’s full report released Wednesday clocks in at 116 pages.
     With 25 of the report’s 44 recommendations are already in progress, the task force outlined what still needs review and referral in a user-friendly summary.
     Recommendation No. 1 is already in progress: to refocus the widely panned Michigan Department of Environmental Quality so that human health and the environment are top priorities for the agency.
     Snyder’s office says it still must review the second recommendation: creating an “apprenticeship or certification” program that gives employees with the MDEQ Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance “direct, hands-on experience with public water system operations.”
     At his contentious appearance last week before Congress, Snyder made much of Point 3: strengthening enforcement the lead and copper rule of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
     Another point that the state must still review calls for a registry of all children and adults exposed to lead while living in Flint from April 2014 to the present. The task force recommends that the state should additionally “ensure 100 percent clinical and environmental follow-up with Flint families whose children have been found to have elevated blood lead levels since April 2014.” This item is still slated for review as well.
     Darnell Earley, the emergency manager whom Snyder tapped for the job in Flint, switched the city’s water supply from Detroit’s Lake Huron to the corrosive Flint River in April 2014 as a cost-cutting measure.
     Officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency say the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality lied about performing corrosion control that might have stopped Flint’s pipes from leeching lead into the water system.
     Reviewing Michigan’s emergency manager law is another item on the task force’s list that the state has in its “review” pile. Empowering Snyder to suspend all elected officials in financially distressed municipalities, and transfer their power to an appointee of his choosing, the law is already the subject of a federal lawsuit that casts it as racially discriminatory.
     “Referrals” are slated for each of the nine recommendations under headings for “City of Flint,” “Genesee County Health Department” and the U.S. EPA.
     The task force’s announcement came two days after Snyder unveiled a 75-point action plan for Flint’s recovery that highlights health and human services as a top priority.
     In the short term, Snyder said the state will track children under 6 with high lead blood levels. Goals down the line include providing “real-time notifications to residents regarding disease report review/analysis,” and ensuring that residents have access to a “primary care physician relationship.”
     The water supply and infrastructure is the subject of the next set of goals, which include replacement of “30 lead service lines,” and preparing “a best practices approach for individual locations with water lead levels greater than 15 ppb or children with blood lead levels greater than 5 micrograms per deciliter.” Supporting Flint’s transition to the Karegnondi Water Authority is a long-term goal for Snyder. Karegnondi was an early name for Lake Huron in the Petun Native American language.
     The lead water pipe removal will occur through Mayor Karen Weaver’s Fast Start Program. Aided by the National Guard, the project kicked off on March 5 and is estimated to cost $55 million by the time it is completed.
     To revitalize employment in the city, Snyder touted projects to develop the Flint riverfront and redevelop the Capitol Theater. Snyder hopes to complete the riverfront development project, which includes removing the Hamilton Dam, by 2019.
     Education goals include the hiring of nine new nurses for Flint Community Schools, a point Snyder began putting into place last week. The governor is also adding three new health centers for children and adolescents throughout the county.
     “We are committed to addressing immediate concerns and finding long-term solutions to improve the quality of life for the people of Flint,” Snyder said in a statement.
     Ridgway White, president of the Flint-based Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, called it important for “the state to do all it can to help Flint recover and rise from this crisis.”
     “We’re pleased to see these robust plans, and our foundation will continue to work with the state, the city and others to help meet the needs of Flint’s families,” White added.

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