DETROIT – A federal appeals court on Friday refused to block delivery of free bottled water in Flint if residents have trouble with lead filters, saying Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's administration is exaggerating the scope and cost of compliance.
In a 2-1 decision, the court said delivery might be unusual. But it noted there's "no precedent" for a system that "has caused thousands of people to be exposed to poisonous water."
"The injunction is in place to ensure that those people have access to clean water," said judges Damon Keith and Bernice Donald at the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
On Nov. 10, U.S. District Judge David Lawson said the state and Flint must deliver water to people who don't have a properly working filter and want the water. Free bottled water and filters have been available all over the city for months, but the judge said the response still hasn't been totally effective.
The state and outside experts insist water quality has greatly improved in Flint since the city stopped using the Flint River in 2015, although people still are urged to use filters. The river water wasn't treated to reduce corrosion, causing lead to leach from old pipes in the city of roughly 100,000 residents.
The appeals court said the state has been "disingenuous" with earlier claims that it would cost $10.5 million a month to deliver bottled water.
"For homes that have properly installed water filters, bottled delivery is not ordered. It is only ordered for homes where there is no proper filter in place," the court said.
In dissent, Judge Jeffrey Sutton said the parties could benefit from more conversation.
"Do the plaintiffs really want the state's and city's limited resources focused on immediate door-to-door delivery now as opposed to using that measure as a last resort if the defendants cannot ensure that the filters are working in, say, two or three months?" Sutton said.
It's unclear how many homes would qualify for home delivery. The state says every Flint home has been visited and 96 percent had new filters.
"The courts have spoken and the state of Michigan's foot-dragging must end now," said Dimple Chaudhary, attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
In an update filed Friday, the state said it wants to meet with the judge to discuss "significant logistical difficulties" with home delivery.
"A sufficient number of available vans, semi-trucks, drivers, and laborers apparently does not currently exist to immediately implement this delivery program. Such an effort could only be implemented gradually over several months," Assistant Attorney General Richard Kuhl said.