Update on the Flint Water Civil Court Case
The lack of a verdict in the Flint Water civil court case makes it obvious that the plaintiffs were unable, after almost six months of trying, to meet their burden of proof. The fact that the plaintiffs could not make their case to this jury underscores what the state’s own investigation found: there was an epic failure of government.
From the start, we thought this case had no legal merit. Ask the City of Flint, they will tell you we had a limited scope of work. We were never assigned to operate the Flint water plant, we were never assigned to connect the water plant to the Flint River, and we were never assigned to test water quality.
We were only asked to design a replacement of an existing power substation and the replacement of one existing pump, piping and concrete pads for that pump, and minor mechanical equipment that had nothing to do with the treatment operation of the plant, or water quality.
Given our limited scope of work, we had no way of knowing what steps were or were not taken by the state’s expert engineers, scientists and city staff. They alone were on the front line making all the decisions for the water supply transition, treatment, and monitoring.
Our hope is that residents will eventually know all the truths about what their local, state, and federal governments did in this case and why. No one wins until that is resolved. We hope that day is soon. We thank the jury for their commitment and their service.
THE TRUTH ABOUT LOCKWOOD ANDREWS & NEWNAM’S (LAN) INVOLVEMENT WITH THE FLINT WATER TRAGEDY
The water tragedy in Flint, Michigan, has been the subject of extensive media coverage, both locally and nationally. Unfortunately, as with any incident of high public interest, the race to provide immediate coverage can lead to inaccurate or incomplete reporting. LAN offers this resource as a place to learn the truth about its involvement with the transfer of water from the Detroit source to the Flint River.
As early as 2011 LAN advised that water from the Flint River needed to be chemically treated before it could be used as a water source, including the use of full softening and the possible need for phosphate additives for corrosion control. LAN continued to assert that position as decisions were made to upgrade the Flint Water Treatment Facility (FWTP) to accept Flint River water.
LAN was initially retained to provide a broad scope of services as part of this upgrade, but in an effort to minimize costs, the City eventually amended and narrowed LAN’s work to include only specific tasks regarding the repair and upgrade of specific components of the FWTP. Although LAN’s amended contract with its narrowed scope of work did not include evaluation of water quality and treatment, LAN made several recommendations to the City regarding the need for corrosion control.
These recommendations, including the need to test treated water from the Flint River for a minimum of 2-3 months before ever utilizing the River as a water source, were not undertaken by the City and not required by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), despite multiple conversations about their importance. It is clear that LAN’s role did not include FWTP operational services or water quality services.
The designs and upgrades that LAN was engaged to develop operated without issue, and it is clear that the firm provided these specific services in a responsible and appropriate manner in accordance with its limited scope of work and industry standards. Decisions not to provide appropriate corrosion control, which may have resulted in a decline in water quality, were made by the City and the MDEQ, not by LAN. As noted in the Flint Water Advisory Task Force findings, this tragedy was “a story of government failure” at all levels (for specifics of LAN’s involvement see LAN Response to Governor_s Task Force Questions 3-22-16).
LAN sympathizes with all who were affected by issues relating to the Flint water supply, which has resulted in several lawsuits, some of which name LAN as a defendant. Given that the allegations in these lawsuits mischaracterize LAN’s role for the City of Flint, the facts surrounding the treatment of water from the Flint River and LAN’s responsibilities under its contracts with the City and industry standards, the firm will vigorously defend its position in court.
Since its founding in 1935, Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam has been dedicated to engineering excellence that has produced exceptional projects that enable and enhance the lives and communities we live and work in. LAN remains committed to providing all of its clients with exceptional engineering services that make it a leader in the industry and the firm of choice for projects across the country.
FLINT CONDENSED TIMELINE ON LAN ACTIVITIES
As part of report prepared by Rowe Engineering analyzing whether the Flint River could be a permanent water supply for the City of Flint, LAN expressly addresses the need to provide for full softening and corrosion control treatments and estimates the total project costs to provide necessary upgrades to the Flint Water Treatment Plant (FWTP) to be $49,888,000.[ 6-2011 Appendix 8 ] No immediate decision was made.
Through its Emergency Manager, the City of Flint chooses to switch its water supply from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to Lake Huron water that would be provided by the newly created KWA, which was constructing a pipeline.
The following day, DWSD provides notice to the City of Flint that it will stop supplying water to the City in one year – April 2014.
LAN first learns of the City’s decision to switch water sources and of potential work on the FWTP. Brent Wright, FWTP Superintendent, asks LAN via telephone for a proposal to perform engineering work on the FWTP to get it ready for full-time operation temporarily utilizing water from the Flint River, and then water from the KWA in 2016.
At a meeting with representatives of the City of Flint, the City tells LAN that it wants to complete the design and construction on the updated FWTP by July 2014 so that the Flint River can be used as a temporary water source until the KWA pipeline goes on-line in 2016, saving the City over $10,000,000. [ Meeting Minutes]
LAN prepares a proposed “Scope of Services” that outlines the improvements that would be needed to get the FWTP operational, including the incorporation of “full softening” to condition the water and help address potential corrosion issues. LAN subsequently anticipates and recommends that there would be a 60-90 day test run of the FWTP before going on-line to allow the City to evaluate the need for full softening, phosphate or other chemical additives and overall water quality. [Scope of Services]
CITY INFORMS LAN THAT MDEQ WON’T REQUIRE “FULL SOFTENING”– LAN REASSERTS POSITION AND RECOMMENDS TEST RUN
The City informs LAN that the MDEQ will not require “full softening” through the use of lime and soda ash, and that the City will only do that which was required by the MDEQ. LAN expresses concern about this decision and reasserts its recommendation that there be a 60-90 day test run of FWTP before going on-line to allow the City to evaluate the need for full softening, phosphate or other chemical additives and overall water quality. [Meeting Notes 1] , [ Meeting Notes 2 ]
LAN submits a Proposal for significant renovation and upgrades to the FWTP, providing a list of recommended action steps that have a total cost of $33-34,000,000 [Letter Proposal]
MDEQ advises the City of Flint and LAN that full softening and corrosion control treatments that had been recommended by LAN are not necessary and that two six-month monitoring periods will be required for the City to be deemed in compliance with the Lead and Copper Rule (“LCR”). LAN asks the City to revisit the issue of corrosion control, but is told that the City would only do that which was required by the MDEQ. [ Meeting Notes ]
Because of cost concerns, the City chooses not to implement all of the recommendations in LAN’s June 10 proposal. In July 2013, the City of Flint enters into an initial consulting contract for the Flint Water Treatment Plant. Under the contract the City authorizes less than $200,000 for LAN to perform an initial service to evaluate the FWTP’s mechanical, electrical and structural condition. [Contract] LAN’s work uncovers a number of significant mechanical, electrical and structural issues. Over the course of the next several months the City narrows LAN’s original scope of work based on costs and the City’s need to address the poor condition of the plant that was identified in LAN’s initial work. LAN and the City ultimately agree to a revised scope of work focused solely on the design of certain, specific components of the FWTP.[July-October 2013 Proposed Scope of Upgrades] ] At no time is LAN responsible..Read More
The City approves LAN’s revised scope of work, limiting LAN’s scope to only six design tasks (including design work related to the FWTP ozone system, electrical system, mid-point chlorination system, service pump station, raw water piping connection and softening residuals disposal system) and does not give LAN any responsibility for water treatment or water quality issues. [CO #2 ]
LAN completes its design upgrades as set forth in the revised scope of work. LAN emphasizes the need for the City to conduct the recommended 60-90 day test run of the FWTP before going on-line to allow the City to evaluate the need for full softening, phosphate and other chemical additives and overall water quality. The City ultimately never performed a water plant test run as recommended by LAN. LAN completes its design upgrades as set forth in the revised scope of work. LAN emphasizes the need for the City to conduct the recommended 60-90 day test run of the FWTP before going on-line to allow the City to evaluate the need for full softening, phosphate and other chemical additives and overall water quality. The City ultimately never performed a water plant test run as recommended by LAN.
Michael Glasgow (City of Flint) sends emails to the MDEQ warning against starting up the plant and distributing water to the public. Glasgow’s email expresses concern over insufficient FWTP employee training and the need for additional monitoring of water quality. Glasgow states that “people above me” are pushing the FWTP to begin operations and that they have their own agenda. [Glascow Emails ]
The City of Flint switches over to the use of water from the Flint River.
The City of Flint experiences problems with fecal coliform bacteria in the water supply and issues several boil-water advisories. LAN is not immediately informed of this or asked to provide services.
The City of Flint discovers elevated levels of Total Trihalomethanes (TTHM) in its water supply, which can cause liver and kidney problems with long-term exposure, and authorizes LAN to study and prepare a report on methods to control TTHM using existing treatment processes. [ CO #3 ]
LAN issues an initial draft of its TTHM report, making several recommendations to address the issue. [ TTHM Report ] During work on the study, LAN first learns the City and FWTP had partially bypassed the softening process at different times during 2014, which may have contributed to the elevated TTHM levels. LAN’s recommendations are not immediately implemented.
Veolia issues a report to the City primarily addressing the elevated TTHM levels, concurring with LAN’s prior study results and recommendations, and recommends the implementation of GAC filtration to combat TTHM and the addition of corrosion control chemicals (i.e. phosphates). Despite the recommendations, the City does not approve or initiate the addition of such chemicals.
Following the Veolia report, the City of Flint asks LAN to design and construct the GAC filtration system to address the elevated TTHM levels. [ CO #4 ] The City does not implement corrosion control additives at this time despite the recommendation of Veolia and the prior recommendation of LAN to do so.
A group of Virginia Tech researchers test the water in Flint homes. They find elevated levels of lead and make their findings public. The MDEQ then disputes the researchers’ conclusions about corrosion control and lead leaching.
The MDEQ sends a letter to the City of Flint recommending the FWTP implement treatments to fully optimize corrosion control within six months. MDEQ further recommends for the first time the use of a phosphate additive for corrosion control and that this be implemented as soon as possible. [ 8-17-15 MDEQ Letter ]
Following the MDEQ directive to the City of Flint to institute corrosion control treatments, Michael Glasgow (City of Flint) notes in an internal email that the City “originally had this chemical in the design, but the DEQ did not mandate it from the start [and] they informed us to wait and see the results of our lead and copper sampling to determine if it was necessary” [ Glasgow Comment ] , [ Glasgow Article ]
FLINT INFORMS LAN OF TEST RESULTS INDICATING ELEVATED LEAD LEVELS IN CITY WATER AND CONTRACTS LAN TO “FAST TRACK” IMPLEMENTATION OF PHOSPHATE ADDITIVES FOR CORROSION CONTROL
LAN is first informed by the City of Flint test results from the LCR monitoring periods indicating elevated lead levels in some areas and of the August 17, 2015 MDEQ directive to the City of Flint to institute corrosion control treatments. Prior to this time, the City repeatedly told LAN that LCR monitoring test results consistently met all State and Federal regulations and standards (other than with respect to the bacteria and TTHM concerns discussed). The City of Flint asks LAN to submit a proposal for design and construction to implement the use of phosphate additives for corrosion control and, subsequently, asks LAN to “fast track” implementation with a target completion date in December 2015 or January 2016. [ September-October Emails ]
The City decides to reconnect to the DWSD as its primary water source.
The City of Flint reconnects to the DWSD water source, and LAN submits its phosphate feed system design to the MDEQ and the City. [ LAN Phosphate Feed Submission ]
MDEQ REPORTS THAT IT SHOULD HAVE REQUIRED CORROSION CONTROL TREATMENTS FROM BEGINNING, AS RECOMMENDED BY LAN
The MDEQ reports that it should have required corrosion control treatments at the FWTP from the beginning, as originally recommended by LAN and others. [ MDEQ LCR Email ]
LAN receives approval from the City and MDEQ for the proposed phosphate feed system design, and the City starts construction on the system later that month. [ MDEQ Approval of Phosphate Design ]
The City of Flint approves LAN’s contract amendment relating to the design of the phosphate feed system incorporating phosphate additives for corrosion control per the MDEQ’s prior notice, and the design and construction of the pipeline in preparation for the connection to the new KWA water source in 2016. [ CO #5 ]
The City completes construction of the phosphate feed system and begins incorporating phosphates into its water supply for corrosion control.
The Flint Water Advisory Task Force releases its final report on the Flint water crisis, declaring the crisis “a story of government failure.” The report states that the MDEQ “stubbornly worked to discredit and dismiss others’ attempts to bring the issues of unsafe water, lead contamination, and increased cases of Legionellosis (Legionnaire’s disease) to light.” [ FWATF Final Report ]