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Sikkema, Kolb To Lead Gov’s Task Force On Flint Water

October 28, 2015

Gov. Rick Snyder Wednesday followed up on his call for an independent investigation into actions leading up to the Flint water crisis by announcing the creation of an independent task force to review state, federal and municipal involvement in the situation.

The five-member task force will be co-chaired by former lawmakers Ken SIKKEMA and Chris KOLB. Sikkema currently serves as a senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants, and Kolb is president of the Michigan Environmental Council.

It’s the latest development in a string of attempts to fix the Flint water fallout that began shortly after the city of Flint switched its water from the Detroit system to the Flint River under an emergency manager in 2014.

Complaints about the water’s quality quickly surfaced, as did calls for a switch back to Detroit water until the city switches its permanent water source to the Karegnondi Water Authority, which will draw from Lake Huron. But state action did not come until recent studies found lead levels in children’s blood have increased since the city switched off of Detroit’s water supply, and that water in the Flint River was too corrosive for lead pipes without sufficient corrosion control.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality this week admitted that its lack of response was a mistake after preliminary results of an internal review and record gathering came to light.

Snyder said the task force has been charged with reviewing actions regarding water use and testing in Flint and offering its recommendations for future guidelines to protect the health and safety of all state residents, adding that he wants an unbiased, all-encompassing look at what’s happened and the best response moving forward.

“Transitioning back to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department-Great Lakes Water Authority is a good first step to protecting public health in Flint, but it’s not the last step,” Snyder said. “Bringing in outside experts to evaluate our actions and help monitor and advise on potential changes to law, procedures and practices will be key to continuing work on the comprehensive action plan and ensuring safe drinking water for all the residents in Flint and all of Michigan.” 

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint), who has led the charge in calling for state and legislative action to fix the crisis, said Snyder failed to state that the task force should be rooting out systemic failures and holding individual’s accountable for their failures.

He also expressed concern that the task force’s members don’t have the right experience to properly find the root causes of the situation and hold the people who caused or exacerbated the problem accountable. Ananich’s own recommendation for review committee chair was former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, a former chair of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

“These individuals may be the right individuals to make policy recommendations to ensure these failures never happen again, but they likely lack the investigative background to fully hold the individuals responsible for this public health crisis accountable for their actions,” Ananich said.

Both Ananich and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint Twp.) sent letters to the Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday to request the agency conduct its own review of the situation.

“It has become clear to me that unacceptable lead levels were a failure of government at every level,” Kildee’s letter states. “The failure of government to provide safe drinking water to Flint is unacceptable, and there must be accountability.” 

Rep. Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint) said he was pleased the Governor is “getting serious” about the issue, but chastised his decision to hand pick people instead of consulting with local leaders and community members.

“This entire crisis was started when an emergency manager decided to switch our drinking water from one system to another, and now we expect this task force to operate as a separate entity from the governor’s office?” he asked. “History is repeating itself.”

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) said he’s concerned about the situation and wants to see the results of both the independent and internal review, but has not decided whether a legislative hearing is an appropriate course of action.

Asked whether DEQ Director Dan WYANT should lose his job — a step some activists and Democrats have called for — Meekhof said Wyant has done a terrific job on many other issues and supports him, but said the final call is one the administration has to make.

“A couple of local governments couldn’t get their act together for some period of time, decisions were made because people thought they needed to make those decisions separately and the results weren’t very good,” he said. “There’s a whole lot of blame to go around, but at this point we now have fixed the problem.”

The task force is operating in conjunction with other state efforts to mitigate and eventually remove the risk of lead contamination, including the switch back to Detroit water, free water filters and testing for Flint residents and ongoing monitoring and corrosion control.

The full task force appointed by Snyder is as follows:

– Sikkema

– Kolb

– Matthew DAVIS, a professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at the University of Michigan Health System, professor of health management and policy at the School of Public Health and professor of public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School. Prior to his current posts, Davis served as chief medical executive of what was formerly the Michigan Department of Community Health, now the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

– Eric ROTHSTEIN, national water issues consultant and principal at the Galardi Rothstein Group. He previously served as an independent advisor on the creation of the Great Lakes Water Authority and has more than 30 years experience in water, wastewater and storm water utility finance and ratemaking assessments.

– Lawrence REYNOLDS, a pediatrician in Flint and president of the Mott Children’s Health Center. He has been in practice for 36 years and also served as president of the Genesee County Medical Society and the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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