(TNS) - The federal government's disaster relief agency has sent three officials to assist Michigan with the Flint drinking water crisis at the state's request, but Gov. Rick Snyder has not yet requested federal financial aid in connection with the ongoing public health emergency, a Michigan State Police spokeswoman said Saturday.
Rafael Lemaitre, director of public affairs for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington, D.C., said on Twitter on Friday that FEMA has deployed two liaison officers to the Michigan Emergency Operations Center to provide technical assistance. A third FEMA liaison officer arrived Saturday, a state police official said.
Capt. Chris Kelenske, deputy director of emergency management and homeland security for the state police, asked FEMA on Wednesday to send the officials "to provide support if we have any questions" about the emergency response process, MSP spokeswoman Nicole Lisabeth told the Free Press on Saturday.
But no federal financial aid has been requested by the state because local officials are still conducting assessments and "no requests have been specifically made from local officials that needs have not been met," Lisabeth said.
Snyder, who declared a state of emergency in Flint and Genesee County on Tuesday, is facing criticism both for not declaring an emergency sooner and for not requesting federal financial help through FEMA. Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said Tuesday that under the law, Snyder could not declare a state of emergency until Genesee County did so. That happened Monday, one day before Snyder acted.
Stacy Parker Le Melle, an author with ties to Michigan, has launched a drive on change.org urging Snyder to ask FEMA to provide aid directly to Flint. "We implore you to do your duty," says the petition. "Help Flint residents get the relief they need!"
Flint's drinking water became contaminated with lead in 2014 after its supply source was switched from Lake Huron water provided by what was then the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the more polluted and corrosive Flint River, while the city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager.
The cost-cutting move resulted in a spike in lead levels in children, which can cause permanent brain damage. A recent preliminary report from a task force appointed by Snyder placed most of the blame on the state Department of Environmental Quality, which failed to require the addition of anticorrosive chemicals to the water. That prompted a Snyder apology and the Dec. 29 resignation of DEQ Director Dan Wyant.
Although the state assisted the city in moving its source of drinking water back to Lake Huron water supplied by Detroit in October, concerns about contamination remain because the more corrosive Flint River water damaged pipes and other infrastructure.
Michigan's chief medical executive, Dr. Eden Wells, said Thursday that Flint residents should either use a lead filter on their drinking water taps, or drink bottled water, until further notice. The Flint water is safe to drink if a properly installed and a properly maintained lead filter is used, Wells said. She also called on parents to have children younger than 6 blood-tested immediately for signs of lead poisoning.
Under state and federal law, after Snyder declared a state of emergency Tuesday, he may request financial assistance through FEMA "if state and local government resources are unable to cope with the emergency or disaster."
At Snyder's request, "FEMA may conduct a Preliminary Damage Assessment in cooperation with state and local emergency management officials," according to a fact sheet distributed by the Michigan State Police.
The results of that assessment are then reviewed by the governor's office and other state officials and used as a basis to determine whether to request federal financial assistance, the fact sheet said.
"Should the state request federal disaster assistance, FEMA will review the request and make a recommendation to the president, who will make the final determination on any disaster aid to be provided to the state," according to the fact sheet. "The goal of disaster assistance is not to make individuals, businesses or government entities whole again, but to restore the community to a level that meets expected health and safety considerations."
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver met in Lansing with Snyder on Thursday and said preliminary estimates to repair Flint water distribution infrastructure damaged by corrosive water from the Flint River have ranged from millions of dollars to as high as $1.5 billion. Health-related costs would be on top of that.
Monica Lewis-Patrick, a spokeswoman for the group We the People of Detroit, said at an anti-Snyder rally in Flint Friday that Snyder should not only be requesting federal financial assistance, but should be mobilizing the Michigan National Guard to assist with the crisis.
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