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Flint, MI–On the sixth anniversary of the Flint water crisis, Flint is again in the midst of a crisis.
Six years after the disastrous switch to the Flint River as a source of drinking water for the city, which led to an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease and toxic levels of lead leaching into the water, the city remains in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act for not having a reliable secondary drinking water source.
Mayor Sheldon Neeley sent a stern message to Flint city council Monday to “finish the job,” referring to the 21-inch diameter, five-and-a-half-mile pipe, that would connect Genesee County’s water system to Flint.
The pipe would ensure that should the current system, which pulls Lake Huron water via Detroit, fail, Flint would have a readily available source of water.
As of now, the only backup source the city has are water reservoirs, which would only supply residents with drinkable water for a matter of days.
If anything, such as a major line break or any other unpredictable event that could compromise the city’s water, it’s unclear where Flint would go next once the reservoirs run dry.
“The results could be catastrophic,” Neeley said.
The city, per federal law, must have a secondary source of water. The proposed project would be paid for by an Obama era bill, the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act. The act authorized $100 million in funding for “Flint, Mich., to recover from the lead contamination in its drinking water system.” According to the EPA, $87 million of that money has not been spent.
The proposed backup system was due to be completed in December of 2019 at a cost of $14.7 million in federal funds. On April 13, 2020, the council again voted 4 to 4 delaying construction. A majority vote of six would be needed from the nine-person council to reconsider the contract before they could revisit the project.
Dissenting council members said they didn’t agree with how the federal funds would be spent, and noted that the companies bidding on the project are not based in Flint.
Councilman Eric Mays, who, while at odds with his fellow council at times, probed D’Agostini and Sons, the company with the lowest bid on the project, and Rob Binscik of the City’s Public works department, on the project’s expenses. Mays said he believes the city should have the ability to treat its own water.
“It’s been mandated, it’s a good, best practice,” Mays said of having access to a backup water source, but stood by his objections to the project. “I believe especially going into Saturday, that Flint should have its own treatment plant, a brand new one under the circumstances.”
From Mays’s perspective, the water crisis was a conspiracy to take control of “Flint’s water system and the control of the $300 million (Karegnondi Water Authority) water pipeline that was paid for under fraudulent circumstances.”
“It’s significant to me that they are asking me to vote on another pipeline that, in fact, doesn’t make us independent. It sort of solidifies Flint’s loss of independence of our water at the six-year point,” Mays said.
Including having a backup water source, Flint is required to meet specific standards as it pertains to water, which is being regulated through the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy, also known as EGLE.
“Flint is required to have a backup water supply. The current pandemic underscores the necessity of reliable water service to Michiganders,” wrote Hugh McDiarmid Jr., Communications Manager for EGLE.
McDiarmid Jr. also said, “The city’s water has met safe drinking water standards during every reporting period for more than three consecutive years.”
Nayyirah Shariff, longtime activist and local community organizer, says she is critical of how the money will be spent.
“Despite what has been said by the city and the state of Michigan, we still have people in the city of Flint that don’t have running water from any system,” she said. “Especially during a pandemic where access to water is critical for personal health, especially six years since the start of the Flint water crisis. So we have these federal funds that are not going, in my opinion, to an immediate need.”
“This is an uphill battle,” Shariff continued, “I understand the issue. You need something in place if something bad happens…but, at least for me, I don’t have any faith in the city or the state government as there are many in the city still without clean water, with damaged in-home plumbing, and continued water main breaks,” she said.
Flint City Council will meet again Monday, April 27, to revisit the issue.