Federal Judge Finds Flint Violated Settlement, Orders City to Finish Lead Pipe Replacements and Restore Residents’ Damaged Property
FLINT, MI – A federal court has found that the City of Flint missed a court-ordered deadline to finish removing Flint’s lead pipes and failed to track where it fixed damage to residents’ properties. As a result of the late Friday ruling, the court granted advocacy groups and Flint residents’ motion to enforce a 2017 settlement reached in a landmark citizen suit to address massive lead contamination in the city’s drinking water. The court imposed new fixes to ensure Flint quickly finishes its long-overdue work to replace lead pipes and repairs damage to residents’ properties.
The 2017 settlement initially mandated that Flint finish replacing lead service lines and restoring residents’ properties within three years, wrapping up in January 2020. The deadline to finish the required excavations and pipe replacements (excluding restoration) was later extended to September 30, 2022, in part due to work stoppages related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the City failed to meet this deadline, leaving over a thousand residents waiting to have their pipes checked and an unknown number with damaged lawns and sidewalks, Concerned Pastors for Social Action, Flint resident Melissa Mays, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), and the ACLU of Michigan returned to court and filed their fifth motion to enforce the settlement in November 2022, seeking court intervention to ensure the city fulfills its obligations to the people of Flint.
Judge David M. Lawson found that the city failed to complete the remaining required service line replacements by the September 30, 2022 deadline, failed to track addresses where it had fixed damage to residents’ properties resulting from the pipe work, neglected to provide timely reports, and failed to complete the remaining required restoration work. As Judge Lawson explained, “the City put itself in this position by its mismanagement of the service line replacement process.” To remedy these violations, Judge Lawson ordered the City to meet new deadlines and to engage in additional planning and reporting. Although most of the new terms were negotiated with the City of Flint after plaintiffs filed their motion, the court order makes the requirements enforceable and ensures that residents can hold city officials accountable to their commitments.
As a result of the Court’s order:
- The City must finish pipe replacements by August 1, 2023.
- The City must figure out which addresses still require property repair work by May 1, 2023. The City will do this by performing in-person visual inspections of homes where it completed an excavation but doesn’t have a record of restoration and checking to see whether certain agreed-upon criteria are met. If the City decides after this inspection that it will not be doing more restoration at a certain home, the City will provide notice to the resident of that decision by leaving a doorhanger with the City’s contact information.
- The City must engage in additional planning to ensure it meets the new deadlines.
- The City must provide additional and more frequent reporting to Plaintiffs on its progress towards finishing the remaining work.
The following are reactions from advocacy groups and Flint resident plaintiffs in the case:
“There’s no reason we should still be fighting for safe drinking water in Flint,” said Pastor Allen C. Overton of Concerned Pastors for Social Action, one of the plaintiffs in the federal drinking water case. “Our hope is that this will be our last time in front of a federal judge urging the City to finish replacing our lead pipes. We don’t want more extended deadlines. We just want this nightmare of lead-contaminated drinking water to end.”
“Six years ago, we resolved our lawsuit with the City of Flint and celebrated the fact that Flint residents would finally have their lead pipes removed,” said Addie Rolnick, an attorney with NRDC and lawyer in the case. “Since then, the City has not only missed multiple deadlines to find and replace lead pipes, but hasn’t kept records of which homes need their lawns and sidewalks fixed as a result of this work. While today’s court order is a win, Flint residents will not get the justice they deserve until every resident who wants to sees their lead pipe replaced and their property repaired.”
“It’s been nine years and Flint’s water infrastructure remains unstable,” said Melissa Mays, one of the plaintiffs in the case and Operations Manager of Flint Rising. “We went to court, fought, and won, but justice never came. It’s unacceptable that the City has not finished replacing lead pipes while other cities like Newark, NJ and Benton Harbor, MI finished this work in 4 years or less. And the work the City has actually done has been disorganized and does not inspire confidence among Flint residents. We shouldn’t have had to go back to federal court for the fifth time to get the City to finish what it promised.”
“Everyone is entitled to clean and safe water,” said Bonsitu Kitaba, Deputy Legal Director at the ACLU of Michigan and a lawyer in the case. “We are grateful that the court agrees that the city of Flint must take action to ensure that every resident’s property is adequately repaired after excavation work, and that residents have a way to contact the city if they have concerns. We will continue to ensure that all Flint residents receive what they are entitled to under the settlement agreement.”
NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.