$641 million Flint water settlement moves toward final approval this week

Federal judge holding three days of hearings to finalize the agreement
A look ahead to an important week for people in Flint recovering from the city’s water crisis.
A look ahead to an important week for people in Flint recovering from the city’s water crisis.(WJRT)
Published: Jul. 12, 2021 at 5:15 PM EDT
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FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - A push toward final approval of the $641 million Flint water settlement started Monday with the first of three days of hearings.

A federal judge will use comments and testimony to decide whether the settlement can move forward and begin paying out claims from residents affected by the Flint water crisis. The judge has not said when she plans to issue the final ruling on the settlement.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced the settlement in August to dozens of civil lawsuits after the Flint water crisis. The proposed $641.2 million fund includes $600 million from the state of Michigan, $20 million from the city of Flint’s insurers, $20 million from McLaren Flint Hospital and $1.2 million from Rowe Professional Services.

Anyone exposed to Flint’s contaminated water from April 25, 2014, to Nov. 16, 2020, is eligible for a share of the fund. All residents and businesses can file a claim, but the highest payment amounts will go toward young children who drank lead-tainted water.

Attorneys say 50,614 people registered for a share of the settlement as of May 27.

How this money will be distributed is a major sticking point, including how people can prove injury from the contaminated water. There’s also discussions about conflicts with the attorneys -- one of them accused of undermining the settlement process and representing people he has not even made contact with.

According to comments in court Monday, 217 people backed out of the settlement after filing to participate. But Judge Judith Levy said she reached out to all of them and many rejoined the settlement.

For one family, they know the settlement will never be perfect, so they’re ready for the judge’s approval and to start receiving the expected life-changing dollars they know they deserve.

Matthew Bell, 6, is an encyclopedia when it comes to dinosaurs -- those from the history books and made-up ones seen in movies.

“Me and Chase be watching that so much,” he said.

Chase is his cousin. The two were born just months after Flint’s drinking water source switched to the Flint River in April 2014. Their grandpa, Floyd Bell, watches them during the week and said the biggest challenge is their attention span

“You know, it angers me inside but what is it gonna do? You know, so I have to keep it positive,” Floyd Bell said.

That’s been his attitude for years surrounding the Flint water crisis. History can’t be changed, so he’s working to impact his grandsons in a positive way.

Bell has been on board with the settlement since it was first announced last August, because he said it’s all about Flint kids affected by the water crisis, who are set to receive more than half of the money if the settlement is approved.

“The children are our future, so they have to be taken care of,” Bell said. “You and I both know that the future looks bleak in a lot of situations, especially when people think about Flint. They’re trying to get out of here so this will be a big improvement, not only for Flint, but for the children and the future of Flint.”

He knows the future will be better for his grandsons because the money they receive will go towards their development and education

“Sometimes we look at other communities and say we wish our children had that, but this is going to allow our children to have those things, which is a beautiful thing,” Bell said.

The hearing continues Tuesday with the judge hearing complaints from just 13 people objecting to the settlement agreement.

Getting to the final settlement hearings has been a long process.

In April 2014, the city of Flint switched water sources from Detroit’s municipal water system to the Flint River while under state emergency management. Less than a year later in February 2015, the EPA found lead levels at a Flint home were seven times higher than the acceptable limit.

Former Gov. Rick Snyder admitted there was a lead problem in Flint in September 2015, but he didn’t declare a State of Emergency until January 2016.

In March 2016, a panel appointed by the governor found the state of Michigan was “fundamentally accountable” for the crisis due to decisions made by environmental regulators. Former Attorney General Bill Schuette’s administration issued the first criminal charges related to the water crisis in April 2016.

Those charges later were dismissed after Attorney General Dana Nessel took office and a new investigation started, culminating in criminal charges against nine people.

Flint started investigating water service lines at all residences across the city in 2017. Any lines from the street into homes made of lead or galvanized metal were replaced with copper.

Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley expects the water line replacement project to end this fall.

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