LANSING, Mich. ― Flint Mayor Karen Weaver today told hundreds of her fellow mayors and elected officials of the actions she is taking to put her city back on the road to recovery as it continues to cope with a water crisis.
Mayor Weaver addressed the Michigan Municipal League Capital Conference in Lansing as the kickoff speaker. She said more federal and state help is needed to replace lead-tainted service lines in the city’s water system, expand early literacy programs, put aggressive screening in place to find and offer assistance to residents who have high blood lead levels, bring more nutritious food choices to the city and create more businesses and jobs.
“I’m here to tell you, people in Flint are not giving up on our city,” Mayor Weaver said. “As we saw from the congressional hearings last week, there’s a lot of finger-pointing going on in terms of who’s to blame for what happened to Flint. While the people of Flint demand accountability, my primary concern is to make sure federal and state resources are put into place to fix this crisis.”
Mayor Weaver said residents are still waiting for the Michigan Legislature to pass $127 million in additional funds that Gov. Rick Snyder has requested for Flint and for Congress to pass a $220 million bipartisan package being shepherded by Senators Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township.
In the meantime, she’s using $2 million the state reimbursed Flint for its cost to reconnect to the Detroit water system to continue her Fast Start initiative aimed at replacing all lead-tainted service lines in the city. She said work crews have identified a total of 30 homes where service lines will be replaced by March 31. The next phase of the program will be announced in early April.
The project is removing not only lead service lines but those made of galvanized steel, as both types appear to be contributing to the lead contamination in Flint’s water supply that’s causing dangerously high lead levels in some water test results. Mayor Weaver has put the preliminary cost for replacing 15,000 service lines in a year at $55 million.
A state-appointed emergency manager switched the city’s water source in 2014 to the Flint River without needed corrosion control chemicals being added, then blocked city efforts to return to the Detroit drinking water system even after General Motors refused to use the water for manufacturing processes. The corrosive water removed a protective coating on the inside of the pipes, causing lead to leach into the water flowing to businesses and homes. The city switched back to the Detroit system last October, but damaged pipes continue to shed lead. As a result, some children and adults are showing elevated lead levels in their blood. Health experts say there is no safe level for lead, which can cause permanent damage.
“Five months after the city’s water source was returned to the Detroit drinking water system, residents are still forced to use bottle water for drinking, cooking, even bathing. They must install and frequently replace filters on their faucets. Some have elevated blood lead levels,” said Mayor Weaver.
“In addition, many must cope with the anxiety of knowing the lead-laced water may have permanently affected their child’s development and possibly stunted that child’s future,” she added. “Flint residents already have paid a huge price for this man-made disaster. Now we need the money to help them.”
The mayor told her fellow municipal officials that while Flint’s water crisis is unique to her city ― at least for now ― the lack of investment by the state in cities large and small is eating away at city services and infrastructure. Michigan was the only state in the nation where municipal revenues dropped from 2002-12, according to U.S. Census data analyzed by the Michigan Municipal League. Flint saw its revenue sharing cut $62 million over that period.
“Continuing to cut is no longer a solution,” Mayor Weaver told the conference. “All of Michigan is missing out when our state refuses to invest appropriately in our cities, our residents and our economic potential. No other city should have to go through what Flint and its residents have had to endure.”