Testimony – Flint City officials were unwilling to consider return to Detroit water
On June 7-8, 2022, William Fahey testified in court. Mr. Fahey is the Head of the Technical Group for Veolia North America. He provided technical support to VNA’s engineers, including Marvin Gnagy and Thepin Chen, that were onsite at the Flint Water Treatment Plant (FWTP).
Fahey reiterated that VNA’s engineers provided sound recommendations, including the addition of corrosion control, based on the information available to them, though they had no way to know that Flint officials withheld evidence of high lead content in the water. Ultimately, the City ignored all but one of VNA’s recommendations. Fahey also confirmed that, although multiple members of VNA’s team raised the prospect of returning to Detroit Water with City officials, those in charge made very clear that they were unwilling to consider the idea.
Here’s what else you need to know.
VNA’s work was limited to plant operations and directed solely by the City of Flint. VNA’s directives did not include lead testing, which can only be done by collecting samples from peoples’ homes.
- Mr. Fahey testified that VNA’s scope of work was restricted to addressing a cancer-causing chemical called TTHM and other waster aesthetic issues.
- VNA’s engineers asked for all available lead and copper testing data that the City had collected.
- VNA analyzed the data provided by the City, which showed that the water was in compliance with state and federal regulations. VNA had no way to know that, in fact, the City was in possession of high lead test results in Flint.
- Even though they were hamstrung with bad information, VNA gave good recommendations to the City of Flint.
- VNA had every reason to think Flint officials would do their job and take appropriate action, but instead all but one of their recommendations were ignored, disregarded and dismissed.
The City refused to even consider a return to Detroit Water even though it was clearly the quickest way to fix the water quality problem.
- Mr. Fahey testified that VNA’s Rob Nicholas and Marvin Gnagy repeatedly raised the option of returning to Detroit Water to Emergency Manager Gerald Ambrose but Ambrose called it “incomprehensible.”
- Flint officials had ruled out the option of returning to Detroit Water long before VNA arrived on the scene. They had no intention of going back to DWSD due to the money invested in their water plant to date and the high cost of buying water.
- VNA had no way to know that the City had no intention to implement their recommendations and no power to overrule the government officials who refused to return to Detroit Water.
Based on the information available to them, VNA engineers determined the Plant was capable of treating the Flint River water if the City implemented their recommendations.
- Mr. Fahey testified that Marvin Gnagy determined the Plant was capable of treating the water if the City was willing to make the necessary investments.
- In their final report to the City, VNA made a series of recommendations to treat the river water. This included work with the City’s engineer and the MDEQ to evaluate the need for corrosion control and the use of phosphate for that purpose.
Flint officials withheld evidence of a serious lead problem from VNA and the public.
- VNA had no choice but to rely on the lead sample data provided to them by the City, which showed that the water was in compliance with state and federal standards for lead.
- VNA recognized that the water was corrosive, and that lead could be a problem in the future, which is why they recommended corrosion control.
- Had VNA known that Flint officials were already seeing evidence of a serious lead problem, this information would have heavily influenced their recommendations to the City.
- Without this critical information, VNA had no way to know that lead was already a problem in Flint and that, as such, it was urgent for the City to switch back to DWSD.
Business development considerations never influenced VNA’s recommendations to the City.
- Mr. Fahey confirmed that VNA engineers exclusively made all recommendations to the City of Flint based on their engineering judgement and that alone.
- Business development considerations never dictated the course of VNA’s engagement with the City of Flint and business development leaders never had operational control of the project.