Flint emer­gency chiefs charged over bad wa­ter

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY ED WHITE

FLINT, MICH. | A crim­i­nal investigation of Flint’s lead-con­tam­i­nated wa­ter turned to for­mer key of­fi­cials at City Hall on Tues­day as Michi­gan’s at­tor­ney gen­eral an­nounced charges against four peo­ple ac­cused of keep­ing res­i­dents on a con­tam­i­nated sys­tem that caused the cri­sis.

Dar­nell Ear­ley and Ger­ald Am­brose separately were stateap­pointed emer­gency man­agers in Flint in 2014 and 2015 when the city was us­ing the Flint River as a source of drink­ing wa­ter. Mr. Am­brose served ear­lier as a fi­nan­cial ad­viser to the trou­bled town.

They were charged with four crimes, in­clud­ing con­spir­acy and mis­con­duct in of­fice. Howard Croft, Flint’s for­mer public works di­rec­tor, and Daugh­erty John­son, the for­mer util­i­ties di­rec­tor, were charged with con­spir­acy and false pre­tenses.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Bill Schuette said Ear­ley and Am­brose com­mit­ted Flint to $85 mil­lion in bonds to join a new re­gional wa­ter pipe­line to Lake Huron while us­ing a city wa­ter plant that was not equipped to prop­erly treat the river wa­ter be­fore it went to roughly 100,000 res­i­dents.

They claimed that debt-bur­dened Flint needed to sell bonds to clean up a la­goon, Mr. Schuette said, but the money went as the city’s share to Kareg­nondi Wa­ter Au­thor­ity to build the pipe­line, which still is un­der con­struc­tion.

“This case is a clas­sic bait-and-switch. … The lime sludge la­goon was not an emer­gency,” said spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor Todd Flood.

Dur­ing a news con­fer­ence, Mr. Schuette did not ac­cuse Mr. Ear­ley and Mr. Am­brose of per­son­ally gain­ing from the bond deal or by keep­ing the Flint River as the source of wa­ter for Flint while the pipe­line was be­ing con­structed.

Flint’s wa­ter sys­tem be­came con­tam­i­nated with lead be­cause wa­ter from the river wasn’t treated for cor­ro­sion for 18 months, from April 2014 to Oc­to­ber 2015. The wa­ter ate away at a pro­tec­tive coat­ing in­side old pipes and fix­tures, re­leas­ing lead.

Mr. Schuette said the investigation re­vealed a “fix­a­tion on fi­nances and bal­ance sheets” in Flint dur­ing that pe­riod.

“This fix­a­tion has cost lives,” he said, not­ing that 12 peo­ple died from Le­gion­naires’ dis­ease, which re­searchers have linked to the river wa­ter. “This fix­a­tion came at the ex­pense of pro­tect­ing the health and safety of Flint. It’s all about num­bers over peo­ple, money over health.”

Mr. Ear­ley, Mr. Am­brose and Mr. Croft could not be reached im­me­di­ately for com­ment. They didn’t ap­pear in court Tues­day.

Mr. John­son is “go­ing to plead not guilty, and we’re go­ing to stand by that,” at­tor­ney Ed­war Zeineh said.

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero re­leased a state­ment de­fend­ing Mr. Am­brose as a “man of the high­est char­ac­ter who would never know­ingly en­dan­ger the public health.”

But Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said the charges high­lighted the prob­lem of hav­ing state-ap­pointed emer­gency man­agers with sweep­ing pow­ers.

“Our voice was taken,” she said.

The lat­est charges bring to 13 the num­ber of peo­ple who have been charged in the investigation of Flint wa­ter and the Le­gion­naires’ out­break. The other nine are eight cur­rent or for­mer state em­ploy­ees and a wa­ter plant em­ployee.

Per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant catch so far: Cor­rine Miller, Michi­gan’s for­mer di­rec­tor of dis­ease con­trol, pleaded no con­test to will­ful ne­glect of duty in Septem­ber. She said she was aware of dozens of cases of Le­gion­naires’ in the Flint area around the same time the city changed its wa­ter source, but she didn’t re­port it to the gen­eral public.

“The investigation has con­tin­ued to go up and go out. … We are not at the end,” said for­mer FBI agent Andy Arena, the lead in­ves­ti­ga­tor.

Mean­while, tests show Flint’s wa­ter qual­ity is im­prov­ing, al­though res­i­dents are urged to drink tap wa­ter only if it has been run through a fil­ter.

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