Flint, MI–At a city council meeting Monday night, the council voted to approve a $220,000 grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation to help fight blight. 

This grant will assist the city in removing trash from dump sites and vacant lots, coordinate community cleanups and maintain areas that have been cleaned.

City of Flint Chief of Staff Brian Larkin said at the meeting that the grant will provide “barricades and blockers” on “high profile” vacant spaces to prevent illegal dumping. “The city has no equipment on hand to respond to emergency situations,” regarding blight, and this grant will change that, he said.  

In a press release, Mayor Neeley said, “We have hauled more than 1 million pounds of blight out of Flint neighborhoods so far, and we are just getting started. This generous donation from the Mott Foundation will allow us to make even more of an impact.”

Ridgway White is the Mott Foundation president and CEO. “The Mott Foundation held 30 community conversations last year, and residents repeatedly expressed their frustration over illegal dumping and blight,” he said in the same release. “They told us strengthening neighborhoods was their top priority. That’s why we’re pleased to support the city’s efforts to fight blight.”

Councilwoman Kate Fields said she hoped the Mott foundation wasn’t listening to the meeting.

That’s because earlier in the meeting, the council voted to “do all things necessary to pay WT Stevens immediately or release the funds to WT Stevens” that have been withheld from them due to alleged illegal dumping on their part. 

“We’re accepting a grant they’re giving us for $220,000 to help prevent and decrease illegal dumping in Flint and the majority of this council just voted to not hold one of their own vendors accountable for illegal dumping,” Fields said. “So, gosh, I’m kind of embarrassed.” 

WT Stevens has about $200,000 yet to be paid to them.

At last week’s city council meeting, the remaining portion of the service line replacement project was given to Lang contractors rather than being bid out between the two companies.

Director of Department of Public Works Rob Bincsik said that was because WT Stevens had been illegally dumping construction materials. He said they were told to clean up the dumpsite, but had not. 

“The direction that I’ve been given is to not pay them until they clean up the site,” Bincsik said. 

Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter announced at the beginning of Monday night’s meeting that she had gone by the dump site and thought it looked completely clean.

“I was expecting something different, but the looks of that site, I’m telling you that site is very well cleaned up,” Winfrey-Carter said. “According to my sources…the site has been closed off for more than a couple weeks. 

“They need to get their money, they need to get paid and they need to be involved in the bidding process,” she said. “We should not be holding contracts from our Black contractors.”

Councilman Maurice Davis also said he went by the site and saw no signs of illegal dumping.

“I couldn’t believe how clean that site was. I mean it’s immaculate. It’s immaculate,” Davis said. 

Fields challenged their observations, and said that unless the soil has been tested, there’s no way to know whether or not the soil had been contaminated.

“I don’t know if you have laboratory eyes or x-ray eyes or whatever…you can look at a smooth expanse of dirt but until that dirt is actually tested, you don’t know what’s in there,” Fields said.

She said she would like Bincsik to have the soil tested before the council make any decisions to pay the contractor, but Councilman Eric Mays said the soil had already been tested twice.

Bincsik said that in his opinion, there was “still about three feet by three feet too much dirt,” but could not point to a specific ordinance to justify that number. 

“I saw the letter, I think last month, detailing that they…made significant progress but there still needs to be approximately three feet of dirt removed from that point,” Bincsik said. 

Council President Monica Galloway said that if there were requirements that the dirt needed to be taken down three feet, that should happen, but she did not agree with withholding money especially “during COVID-19.”

Last week, Davis supported not involving WT Stevens in a bidding process for the remaining part of the service line replacement project, but changed his stance at this meeting.

“I thought the site was blighted. That site is immaculate,” Davis said. “And so I feel like there’s a motion to pay them folks immediately, as soon as possible. Right is right, wrong is wrong.” 

The motion passed 5-4.

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...