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Judge to decide whether to approve proposed $600 borrowing plan for Flint water settlement

Posted at 6:23 AM, Dec 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-21 06:23:00-05

Michigan legislators on Wednesday finalized a plan to borrow $600 million to finance the state’s proposed settlement with the residents of Flint, whose water was contaminated with elevated levels of the neurotoxin lead.

A public hearing will be held on Monday afternoon in federal court as U.S. District Court Judge Judith Levy will decide whether or not to preliminary approve the proposed settlement.

The legislation received House approval on 105-3 and 104-4 votes and will be signed by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. It would authorize a loan from a state economic development fund, costing more than $1 billion to repay over 30 years — $35 million annually. The legal settlement is believed to be the state government’s largest ever, pending approval from the federal judge.

Other defendants contributing to the $641 million deal include the city of Flint and McLaren Flint Hospital, which each will pay $20 million, and Rowe Professional Services Co., an environmental consulting company that will pay $1.25 million.

Flint switched its drinking water source in 2014 from Detroit’s system to the Flint River in a money-saving move while under supervision of a state manager following Republican then-Gov. Rick Snyder's declaration of a financial emergency. City workers followed state environmental officials’ advice not to use anti-corrosive additives. Without those treatments, water from the river scraped lead from aging pipes and fixtures, contaminating tap water.

Elevated levels of lead were detected in children, and at least 12 people died in a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that experts suspected was linked to the improperly treated water.

“A settlement does not turn back the clock and it does not right these grave wrongs. No amount of money can do that," said one of the bill sponsors, Senate Democratic Leader Jim Ananich of Flint. "However, it is a powerful acknowledgment of the real harm done to us. ... I am glad and relieved to see this bill cross the finish line in the Legislature, and I expect the governor to take swift action when it reaches her desk.”