Carlos Osorio / AP
Updated at 9:28 p.m. ET
Former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder was indicted Wednesday for his role in the Flint Water Crisis, an environmental disaster that contaminated the predominantly black city’s drinking water with lead nearly seven years.
Snyder faces two counts of willful neglect of his duty and if found guilty he could face up to a year in prison and up to a fine of $ 1,000.
Other former members of his administration are also expected to face charges, according to the Associated Press.
Earlier this week, as reports began to surface that charges were looming, a lawyer for Snyder called them a “politically motivated smear campaign,” according to the Detroit Free Press.
Snyder, a Republican, was Michigan’s top leader when state-appointed officials moved to move the city’s source of drinking water from the Detroit water system to the Flint River in 2014.
This stems from a move touted as a way to save money and purported to be only a temporary fix while authorities build a pipeline to nearby Lake Huron. But it turned out to be costly, both in lives lost and in a settlement worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Awaiting settlement for victims
Last year, Nessel announced a $ 600 million settlement for Flint families affected by the water crisis last year.
The deal “puts the needs of children first,” she said in the August announcement.
Young people were particularly vulnerable, at risk of long-term cognitive problems and other health problems from exposure to lead in water.
As NPR’s Bill Chappell reported at the time, the settlement said nearly 80% of funds were for resolving claims filed on behalf of children and minors.
The remaining part of the settlement is expected to be divided among other Flint residents who have fallen ill from the contaminated water or suffered property damage, Michigan Public Radio reports.
But a U.S. District Court judge is expected to rule soon on whether to grant preliminary approval for the settlement, MPR reports.
At least 12 died, more than 80 fell ill
The station adds that not everyone is happy with the settlement. This includes John McClain, a pastor, who called the proposed settlement “disrespectful” because he said there were too many roadblocks for residents to access the money and he was not providing enough. to cover the damage.
“We believe that the proposed settlement as currently assigned is just as disrespectful as the damage caused by the tragedy of the water crisis itself,” McClain told MPR.
At least a dozen people have died and more than 80 have been diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease after water from the Flint River washed lead from old pipes, poisoning the city’s water system.
Soon after the change, locals began to complain that the new water in their homes smelled foul, tasted different and was discolored, according to an MLive report from May 2014, a month after the change in. water source.
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials told City of Flint officials they didn’t need to use corrosion control measures to treat river water, at least not initially, Michigan Public Radio reported in December 2016.
“The wait-and-see approach was a very bad idea,” experts told MPR, because without the necessary treatment “the protective coating inside the pipes that has formed over the years from the water of Detroit is probably gone. And that’s what caused the lead levels to peak in many Flint homes. ”
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Snyder, out of office for two years, apologized for his role in the environmental debacle during his 2016 State of the State address.
“Your families are facing a crisis, a crisis you did not create and could not have prevented,” Snyder said. “I want to speak directly, honestly and sincerely to let you know that we are praying for you. We are working hard for you and we are absolutely committed to taking the right steps to effectively resolve this crisis. To you people of Flint, I say … I’m sorry and I’ll fix it. “
More than a dozen state and city officials have been indicted for their role in the crisis. Several of them have accepted plea deals to avoid jail.
In June 2019, Nessel announced that state prosecutors were dropping all criminal charges against a group of eight government officials and decided to launch a further investigation.
“I want to remind the people of Flint that justice delayed is not always justice denied and that a courageous and dedicated team of prosecutors and career investigators work hard to ensure that those who made you evil be held accountable, ”Nessel said in a statement to The Times.
Dylan Scott of NPR contributed to this report.