AP news guide: The Flint water crisis emails

AP News
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Posted: Jun 25, 2016 11:33 AM
AP news guide: The Flint water crisis emails

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has released 290,000 more pages of state emails and documents related to lead-contaminated water in Flint. The disclosure Tuesday was the 10th and final mass-release of such records, which total nearly a half-million pages and revealed his administration's inner dialogue over the crisis.

The disaster began when the poverty-stricken city of nearly 100,000 residents left Detroit's water system and started using improperly treated Flint River water in April 2014 while under state management.

The newly released materials — including 9,000 pages of executive office records — include many duplicates from previous releases but also new ones. Snyder says they were made public to increase transparency and in response to public records requests, lawsuits and criminal investigations.

Here are some details:

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'HOLDING THE BAG'

It was already known that Snyder's lawyers called for a return to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department water nearly six months after the switch due to concerns about E. coli, a carcinogenic disinfectant byproduct and rusting parts at a General Motors plant, but that state officials warned it would raise residential rates too much. The new emails show that by February 2015, top Snyder aides were still worried about not rejoining Detroit's network while awaiting the completion of a Flint-area pipeline that will draw water from Lake Huron. Then-chief of staff Dennis Muchmore wrote: "This train is leaving and we'll be holding the bag if we don't work out a deal on DWSD for Flint." A state Treasury Department official warned of a 30 percent rate hike. Michigan was forced to help Flint return to Detroit water eight months later, after elevated lead levels were confirmed in children.

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'RIGHT CHOICE TO LEAVE'

In March 2015, Flint's then-emergency manager, Jerry Ambrose, sent to a deputy state treasurer a news story that said the county where Flint is located could see water bills rise as much as 16 percent after the Detroit system approved rate increases. "We made the tight (sic) choice to leave ... and not go back!" Ambrose said in the email that was forwarded to top Snyder aides and others. "I never disagreed with that. I'm just worried about the interim," Muchmore said, apparently referring to the city's continued use of the river during construction of the Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline.

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NEW WATER SOURCE?

The Flint River was always intended to be a temporary source of water. But officials misjudged how quickly the Karegnondi water would be ready. In October 2014, Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley reminded the Snyder administration that Flint was scheduled to convert to KWA water "well within" 18 months. It is still unknown when Flint will start receiving water from the KWA. In the wake of the crisis, federal regulators have required that a 3-mile testing pipeline first be built before the KWA can send water to Flint.

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'NOT RESPONSIVE'

At times, entire emails or portions of emails are redacted as "not responsive." Some are protected by attorney-client privilege. Snyder spokesman Ari Adler said other emails — even those responding to Flint-related emails — are not related to the crisis and were redacted since the governor's office is exempt from the Michigan Freedom of Information of Act.

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MEMO IN THE MONOTONY

The latest emails include about 270 pages of a form letter just over one page long sent by Snyder's constituent relations division from Dec. 21 to Dec. 28 to recipients whose names are redacted for privacy reasons. Staff emails said the letter was ready to be sent in anticipation of "getting slammed" after a report on Flint by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. Near the end of the monotonous string of pages is one lone internal staff email. The half-page email is innocuous, though parts are redacted, but it underscores how easily something could be overlooked in such a massive and repetitive document dump. Some recipients recognized the response as a form letter and did not take kindly to it. "I can see from the two fonts in your reply that it is a form obviously sent in reply to any Flint water inquiries ... and far more important, you failed to mention many key facts," one replied on Dec. 22. "So do not bother with another reply as I now understand your words to be politic garbage and most insincere."

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LINGERING QUESTION

The emails are a reminder of how the administration failed to get a handle on the crisis over the course of a year. Snyder has insisted that some specific warnings or red flags, such as a possible link between the water and a deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreak, were never given directly to him until later. But he has acknowledged "kicking myself every day" for failing to "connect the dots." Criminal charges have been filed against two state environmental regulators, but will the probe ensnare the governor's office?

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COST OF TRANSPARENCY

So far, outside attorneys have been paid more than $670,000 to search, process and produce the executive office emails and documents, Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton said. State agencies have spent an unspecified amount on software or other services to help process FOIA and legal discovery requests.

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Schneider reported from Detroit.

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Follow David Eggert on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 .

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Follow Roger Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/rogschneider .


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