Flint, MI– Flint residents gathered on a Zoom call Jan. 22 to discuss Judge Judith Levy’s decision to preliminarily approve the $641.25 million water settlement, and prepare to take further action in voicing their concerns about it. 

Pastor Monica Villarreal of Salem Lutheran Church, who is also community organizer with Michigan United, presented a PowerPoint outlining Levy’s decision and discussing how the community can work to get information out to the public, and bring their concerns to attorneys in the case.

Many of those on the call were also on a Zoom call on Jan. 18, sharing their personal experiences with the water crisis in hopes that Levy would hear them, and reject the settlement.  

Michigan United arranged the second call as soon as her decision to approve it was announced. 

“We felt it was important that we…digest…the settlement itself, have some conversation amongst residents ,and then continue to do the work that helps residents to be informed so that they can make decisions with regards to their own participation in the settlement agreement,” Villarreal said. “And then of course to help uplift and encourage residents to attend the town hall where the attorneys will be present to give greater detail and answer questions of legality for folks.”

The town hall she is referring to will be held on Jan. 28, with Michal Pitt and Theodore Leopold, Interim Co-Lead Counsel, who will provide an update on the settlement. 

Some of the group’s concerns were addressed, to some extent, in Levy’s written decision already.

One concern of theirs had to do with access to bone scans for proof of injury requirements.

In Levy’s decision, she explained that the Chapman plaintiffs, who primarily represent children, objected to the inclusion of bone scans as a form of proof in the settlement due to the inequity of accessibility. In response to this, Levy said that the Co-Lead Class Counsel is working to set up a bone scan program to help make them more accessible. 

Villarreal said she spoke with the Co-Lead Class Counsel to discuss this, and that they said they are working with Mount Sinai Hospital and the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor to bring physicians to Flint to perform these tests.

Many of their concerns remain, but Villarreal acknowledged that “the court could not rewrite the settlement.”

“We know there are issues with the lead and copper rule, we recognize that there’s a whole host of programs that are going to be needed to continue to support the community at large and our children in their school system,” she said. “But there are certain things that we’ve been asking for that the court could not grant in this settlement given the parameters of the legal frameworks in which they had to work.” 

But, the group will be organizing and preparing to share their questions and concerns with the current settlement at the Town Hall.

“We have talked in many circles and some length about the challenges we experience in our community around medical documentation linking ailments to the water,” Villarreal said. “I think this is an important question to ask the attorneys…it’s also an important point of advocacy within our medical community in terms of whether physicians or the medical community is willing to review cases…that may increase people’s eligibility for certain claims in this process.”

Concerns about access to the internet to learn about the settlement, register, and make a claim was also brought up.

“We recognize that the digital divide in our communities is pretty significant, and that people are not going to be interested in just calling a phone number…or waiting for a phone call back,” she said. “We know that a significant portion of our population may struggle to register online.”

Villarreal said the attorneys are going to need community partners to help with public education regarding the settlement.

She said it was important for the community to get information out to everyone in the community, but also that they “must continue the journey to raise up our voices, and to fight for those things that this settlement was not able to get because of its limitations within the system.”

To register to attend the Town Hall, click here.

Amy Diaz

Amy Diaz is a journalist hailing from St. Petersburg, FL. She has written for multiple local newspapers in her hometown before becoming a full-time reporter for Flint Beat. When she’s not writing you...