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Flint water crisis about to cost the state a whole lot of cash

The lead in the Flint water supply probably did not impact your health, but it’s about to smack you right in the pocketbook.

Michigan taxpayers will be on the hook for part of a likely multimillion out-of-court settlement that is inching its way through a federal court, where the judge has moved settlement mediation into the final stages.

For those of you who are new to the state or have been in a Rip Van Winkle-type snooze for the past seven years, the attorneys for a class-action suit representing between 25 and 30,000 victims believe the state botched its handling of the Flint water mess. One of the lead lawyers opined back in January 2016 that “they were much more concerned about the politics than the health and not much care for the people being harmed by this. They were more scared about the optics and how do we look and who can we blame for this.” So says one of the lead barristers, Michael Pitt.

Well, with the election of a new Democratic governor and new Democratic attorney general, a source explains the two are “serious about resolving this case” and molding an out-of-court agreement with the plaintiffs to avoid what could turn into a lengthy, if not embarrassing, trial for the state.

And those mediation talks are well underway, with all of the parties looking at “an aggregate” range of dollars that the state is apparently willing to cough up to end that ugly chapter in state government history. Mind you, negotiations like this sometimes fall apart, but, based on the intel that is out there, it looks like a multimillion settlement is definitely in the offing.

A critical indication of that is the federal judge has hired two neutral lawyers, called sub-class counsel, to begin the arduous task of deciding who gets what piece of the settlement pie. It’s expected that the biggest chunk will go to the children of Flint who are most at risk with the lead exposure they are suffering through.

One of those mediators you may know. Former Democratic U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, along with a Detroit lawyer, is working with all the parties to iron things out. Those are “lengthy negotiations,” one source reports, and, with 22 trial law firms, the majority of which are from out of state, there are lots of hands trying to paw their way into the state government till.

There is no need here to outline all of the fumbles, deliberate or other wise, that Gov. Rick Snyder painfully saw unfold before his very eyes.

His classic line at one point was, “I wish I had asked more questions.”

Attorney Pitt wishes that, too, as he has told the court, “they either, through their own negligence or indifference to what they were seeing, they didn’t want to admit they had a public health emergency that they had missed.” And, to make matters worse, based on his review of thousands of emails flowing back and forth throughout the Snyder administration, he believes there was also a cover-up.

At one point, before it was clear that the leaded water was a health crisis, the state suggested that the elevated lead levels in kids’ blood was merely a “seasonal spike.”

Mr. Pitt argues “this seasonal spike argument they’re making is really a pretext to cover up their own negligence in this matter. They were sitting on a public health emergency for 10 months before the whistle was blown.”

And, so far, some of the federal judges in the matter have reached the same conclusion, that the state was culpable. Which is why the new administration, which had nothing to do with the conduct of the previous one, is anxious to turn the page on this thing.

Assuming everything falls into place, whatever the bottom-line dollar amount is per victim, state lawmakers will have to dip into state coffers to pay for it. The payment will likely be stretched out over several fiscal years so as not to strain other state services.

The four legislative leaders have been briefed on that reality as they wait for the first of the year, when the out-of-court settlement shoe drops right on their heads.