Former Flint water investigator concerned AG Nessel will ignore evidence of fraud in DEQ, AG office
On January 7, Noah Hall, who was then a special assistant attorney general for the state’s ongoing Flint water investigation, made some explosive allegations on Stateside. He said that the process of approving the Karegnondi Water Authority’s (KWA) pipeline project was “riddled with fraud.”
The KWA project was the reason state officials switched Flint’s drinking water to the Flint River, a move that was supposed to be temporary until the new KWA pipeline was built. But that switch is what led to untreated water corroding old pipes and causing lead to leach into the city’s drinking water.
A month after that interview aired, Attorney General Dana Nessel removed Hall from his position.
Today, Noah Hall appeared on Stateside to talk about his termination. He says the attorney general’s office made a policy decision in determining that they no longer needed an independent counsel on the investigation, and that the people of Flint can be adequately represented by the office itself.
“[Attorney General Dana Nessel] believes that the state attorney general’s office can essentially wear both hats — represent the people who were affected, as well as the governor and the state agencies and the other folks who were responsible,” Hall said.
Hall also addressed his previous statements regarding alleged fraudulent action involved in the KWA agreement. He says that in order to generate the $80 million necessary to build the proposed pipeline, Flint’s then-emergency manager and various state agencies came up with an “essentially fraudulent” lime sludge lagoon cleanup project to justify the bonding of those funds.
The lagoon project was the basis of an administrative consent order that he believes never should have been issued, adding that the bonds “were not necessary to address the underlying sludge problem.”
“The state Department of Environmental Quality was at the center of it. But the Attorney General’s office, as the attorneys for the state of Michigan — as well as the attorneys for the Department of Environmental Quality — have a formal role in approving administrative consent orders to ensure that they’re legitimate,” Hall said. “That didn’t happen here. It was just another failing, and another instance of another part of state government not doing its job for the people of Flint.”
Hall views the KWA pipeline as a “bad policy decision” that is not inherently fraudulent or criminal. The problem, he says, is with how officials “schemed to indebt the city of Flint to pay for it.”
Stateside asked if the Attorney General has specific plans to investigate the AG office's role in signing the administrative consent order to issue bonds for the KWA pipeline. Spokesman Dan Olsen emailed us this response: “Investigations remain under the purview of the criminal side of the conflict wall and civil attorneys do not have any authority over those investigations.”
Upon his termination, Hall was assured that the decision had nothing to do with his performance or the quality of his work, and he says he respects Attorney General Nessel’s right to use another attorney during the investigation. His concern is that he and his team have been replaced with state-salaried attorneys who have defended the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, former Governor Snyder, and “numerous other arms of the state in cases against Flint residents.”
“Now [the attorney general’s office is] turning around and saying that the same legal team that has defended the governor cannot only adequately represent the people of Flint, but will go a step further and investigate further wrongdoings in the state and the attorney general’s office,” Hall said. “I don’t see how that’s possible.”
Olsen, the AG's spokesman, said in a statement to Stateside:
"Our office adheres to the highest ethical standards, which is why we asked our ethics officer for a complete and thorough ethical review of how we brought the civil case against Veolia and other Flint water consultants back into the department. That report showed no ethical concerns."
But Hall says there’s a difference between what is the “right thing to do” and what’s ethically permissible under state law. He maintains that the point here is that those who have been “poisoned and wronged by their government” deserve to be represented by an independent legal voice.
“The folks in Flint have now been wronged yet again and once more, the state is telling them that they don’t have an independent voice, that they don’t have any legitimate concerns that the state can’t address, and essentially, leave this to the state and its professionals to take care of,” Hall said. He calls the move a "slap in the face" to Flint residents.
Listen to Stateside’s conversation with Noah Hall to hear his concerns about potential fraud committed by government officials that he’s concerned may go unaddressed and why he thinks that the attorney general’s decision will not help the people of Flint rebuild their faith in government.
*Clarification: Noah Hall stated in the interview that the Michigan Civil Rights Commission "found that the driver for the KWA pipeline has a lot to do with unfortunately the decades old stories of racism and division between our cities and suburbs." In the Commission's final report, entitled "The Flint Water Crisis: Systemic Racism Through the Lens of Flint," there is no specific mention of racism in connection with the KWA itself.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Isabella Isaacs-Thomas.