BRANDON FOUNTAIN: When what matters most gets lost in the mix
Add the one. Carry a five. Subtract negative eight. Multiply by the atomic mass of selenium. And, finally, divide by chocolate cupcakes.
This is how the complex web of lies, mistruths and dumbfounded ignorance appears to me when a new story about the ongoing Flint Water Crisis comes out.
Whether it is Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette bickering and finger pointing about who has authority to address the ongoing health concerns, money spent for infrastructure or mounting legal bills accruing on the taxpayer’s dime, it is past the point of ridiculous.
The facts surrounding the crisis haven’t changed. In April 2014, in an effort to save the city money, officials switched water sources from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department to the Flint River. However, the pipes were not treated correctly and lead leached into the water. Residents complained about the water used for drinking, cooking and bathing but to no avail.
City and state officials downplayed the dangers in the water, telling residents it was safe to use. In late 2015, the world got to see the dingy-colored water as experts gave the silenced population a voice.
In plain English: Someone messed up. In fact, a lot of folks messed up and Michigan taxpayers are getting the bill.
In January 2016, Snyder sent $28 million to the city for supplies, medical care and infrastructure upgrades, and later budgeted an additional $30 million to give bill credits of 65 percent to residents and 20 percent for businesses. Just two months ago, $165 million was approved by Snyder for lead pipe replacements and water bill reimbursements.
However, we are going to be footing the bill for more than the initial $223-million price tag, by folks who shouldn’t get to use taxpayer funds when they egregiously failed the public trust.
On Aug. 18, the Detroit News reported Gov. Rick Snyder’s legal bills for the Flint water crisis had hit $3.4 million. Since he’s governor, he doesn’t have to spend one red cent for his defense. It’s not like Snyder is hard up for money. In 2013, Yahoo News estimated his worth at $220 million.
The News also reported the Department of Environmental Quality has spent nearly $1.4 million providing private attorneys to state workers, some of whom have been charged criminally by Attorney General Bill Schuette or have been named as defendants in multiple civil lawsuits. Just so we’re clear: not only did we pay their salary, but we get to hire their defense attorneys, too.
On top of that, through mid-June, the News reported Schuette’s investigation had spent more than $2 million, using lawyers, retired police officers and support personnel to investigate the water crisis.
These figures don’t even take into account the money that will be needed for long-term health care for some residents.
That’s the human cost of this tragedy, and it’s unimaginable.
According to the World Health Organization, lead affects children’s brain development, resulting in reduced intelligence quotient, behavioral changes such as shortening of attention span and increased antisocial behavior, and reduced educational attainment. The neurological and behavioral effects of lead are believed to be irreversible.
Health officials also found an outbreak of Legionnaire’s among Flint residents. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Legionnaire’s is a respiratory disease caused by Legionella bacteria. The bacteria can cause a serious type of pneumonia (lung infection) called Legionnaires’ disease. About 1 out of every 10 infected with Legionnaire’s dies.
In the end, I couldn’t care less how much is spent investigating, charging and defending these folks, nor am I worried about how much the state is going to spend on fixing this fiasco.
It’s already too late to do what’s right.