By Matthew Dolan
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder asked President Barack Obama to declare the area around Flint a federal emergency to combat the escalating crisis over contamination of the city's drinking water.
In a late night news release, Snyder said he request the federal emergency and major disaster designation for Genesee County, home to Flint, in order to help "protect the health, safety and welfare of Flint residents."
If federal aid is granted by the Obama adminstration, Snyder said possible assistance might include temporary housing and home repairs as well as low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses. It may also cover fixing damage to public facilities and infrastructures, such as city schools and the water system, the governor said in a news release sent out around 11:30 p.m.
"We are utilizing all state resources to ensure Flint residents have access to clean and safe drinking water and today I am asking President Obama to provide additional resources as our recovery efforts continue," Snyder said in the Thursday night statement.
Snyder's request is expected to be reviewed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The president will have the ultimate say in determining whether to provide federal aid.
Speaking earlier in the evening to a private reception at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Snyder described how he has been in touch in recent days with a number of federal emergency officials, including the Secretary of Homeland Security and a top White House liaison on state issues to discuss how the federal government might be able to aid Michigan.
In a separate interview before the event, the governor said he told federal officials that he "would appreciate your partnership and how we can work together to address the challenges" in Flint. He added that the federal government is already moving to review how its various department may be able to mobilize to aid in the crisis. Snyder did not provide a timeline about how quickly that federal assistance may arrive.
The Snyder administration has been criticized for not acting quickly enough to the drinking water ban and for allowing Flint two years ago to switch to drawing water from the Flint River in an effort to save money without requiring corrosion controls which could have reduced lead levels from old pipes. On Jan. 5, he declared a state of emergency in the city and surrounding Genesee County on Jan. 5, but critics said that came months after initial alarm bells about the crisis went unheeded.
On Tuesday, he activated the Michigan National Guard, and seven soldiers were initially sent to Flint. A National Guard spokesman said the plan called for getting 30 soldiers into the city by Friday.
Earlier Thursday, U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, called for congressional hearings on lead contamination in the water in Flint and Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, wrote directly to President Barack Obama asking for his administration to dispatch experts to Flint to help address a crisis that now includes reports of a large number of cases of Legionnaires' disease.
The governor said he welcomed both the aid of federal officials as well as investigations led by appropriate authorities.
"I encourage them to investigate because we want to learn as much as possible from this to make sure it doesn't happen again," he said in an interview.
Asked about the continuing anger over his administration's handling of the crisis, including a protest calling for his resignation at the state Capitol Thursday, Snyder said "I appreciate that people are upset about the situation," added that he understood calls for him to step down were "part of public comment."
Snyder told the group of several dozen at the auto show reception sponsored by Delta Air Lines that the Flint crisis was "something we wish would never happen to anyone." The reception was hosted by Nolan Finley and Stephen Henderson, editorial page editors, respectively, at the Detroit News and the Free Press.
He repeated admissions he has made in recent days and weeks: that his administration "didn't recognize it as quickly as we should have." But Snyder said his team was now moving in the right direction to solve the immediate crisis to identify those who might have been affected by the elevated levels of lead in the water and restore drinking water to the nearly 100,000 residents of Flint.
In the longer term, he said local, state and federal officials would look to figure out what went wrong so that a similar crisis does not break out in any other corner of the state.
In concluding his remarks, the governor called on others to join him in a cooperative effort to find common solutions to restore the water supply to safe levels.
(c)2016 the Detroit Free Press