Facts from the courtroom
April 15, 2022

VNA VP Robert Nicholas’ deposition: the facts

On April 12th, 13th, and 14th, former VNA Vice President of Business Development Robert Nicholas’ deposition was played in the courtroom. Here are the facts: 

Flint officials told VNA on multiple occasions that they were not interested in their opinion as to whether or not reconnecting to Detroit water was the best solution.

  • Flint officials changed the City’s water source from treated water from Detroit to untreated water from the Flint River 10 months prior to engaging VNA.
  • The switch was made to save money over the health and well-being of Flint residents. 
  • VNA suggested at the onset of their engagement in Flint that a return to Detroit water would be the quickest solution, but City officials dismissed those suggestions.
  • Former Flint Emergency Manager Gerald Ambrose called a return to Detroit water “incomprehensible.” 

All of the data that Flint officials provided to VNA showed the water was in compliance with state and federal standards. 

  • At a public meeting in February 2015, Mr. Nicholas stated that Flint’s water was in compliance with State and Federal guidelines.  
  • The full record of the meeting makes clear that VNA warned it had not conducted its own tests and only reviewed the test results shared by the City of Flint. 
  • VNA also encouraged the public to alert the City about water issues they were experiencing and explained that the City would test the water at residents’ homes at no charge.

VNA asked Flint officials to provide all relevant testing data to them and had no reason to believe that they would not.

  • VNA had no choice but to rely on the City to provide data for water samples collected outside of the plant (i.e., from residents’ homes and other locations). 
  • We know now that City officials withheld critical sampling data showing exceptionally high levels of lead found at the home of LeeAnne Walters. 
  • The City withheld this information from VNA even though VNA had specifically asked for relevant samples and even though VNA was on the ground in Flint when the City received Ms. Walters’ high lead test result.   

VNA followed up with Flint officials in April of 2015, after submitting their final report, to offer to assist in the implementation of their recommendations—their offer was rejected.  

  • VNA’s final report to the City of Flint included over a dozen recommendations to improve the City’s water treatment processes. 
  • One of those recommendations included corrosion control, which VNA labeled as the second highest priority behind quality control practices. 
  • VNA had every reason to believe that City officials would take VNA’s recommendations seriously and followed up to see if there was anything they could do to help the City with implementation of VNA’s recommendations. 
  • In response, Mr. Ambrose told VNA that they were managing implementation of their recommendations “in-house” and declined VNA’s offer to assist. 
  • Earlier in the trial, LAN Engineer Warren Green told the Court that he asked City officials if they would like him to start work on VNA’s recommendations, but never received the go-ahead. 
  • After VNA’s offer to assist was rejected, VNA had no way to know that Flint officials had opted to ignore all but one of their recommendations—including the recommendation to add corrosion control.

Mr. Nicholas’ “lead seems to be a problem” email has been taken completely out of context and misrepresented by the plaintiffs’ attorneys.  

  • The email sent by Rob Nicholas was based on a news article published before VNA even entered Flint, which showed high lead levels in one drinking fountain at the University of Michigan-Flint.
  • VNA was beginning an internal discussion and assessment on the issue with their technical team before expanding the conversation externally.
  • In fact, it was this email, among other things, that prompted VNA to ask the City to provide them with their lead and copper rule testing.
  • VNA reviewed the testing conducted by the City of Flint, as well as all of the testing done at the University. 
  • All test results provided to VNA showed compliance with State and Federal water standards.

Business development considerations never influenced VNA’s recommendations to the City.

  • 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. 
  • VNA engineers exclusively made all recommendations to the City of Flint, based on their engineering judgment and that alone.