Every person has a story, and in June, Flint residents traveled to the governor’s office to share theirs. More than 1,000 messages were symbolically delivered in plastic water bottles directly to the desk of Gov. Rick Snyder. These letters detailed the horrors the people of Flint have lived through since the water crisis began in 2014.
Messages poured in from citizens expressing the anger, fear and sorrow that has come from the negligent decision-making of both elected and appointed officials. Some included stories of children developing rashes and losing hair, or parents traveling for miles to provide clean drinking water for their families. Others detailed the cost of replacing household appliances and paying for medical bills associated with the crisis. One poignant message came from a father who lost a daughter due to health complications caused by the contaminated water. He is currently struggling from a medical condition of his own and is simply looking forward to the day when he doesn’t have to worry about the water coming from his tap.
No amount of compensation can make up for the suffering, loss and devastation the people of Flint have endured over the last three years. However, strides can still be made to rebuild trust in the city’s leadership. That is, if officials are willing to finally take the steps necessary to fix Flint once and for all.
Government officials caused the Flint water crisis by making negligent decisions that prioritized saving money above public safety. Flint residents have heard many apologies and promises to make things right, but so far city officials’ actions haven’t lived up to their words.
Lack of progress and slow decision making hamper the water crisis recovery efforts. Despite having ample time and information, the Flint City Council has still only approved a short-term contract extension with the city's current water supplier, Great Lakes Water Authority. For months, they’ve been dragging their feet on approving a long-term agreement due to costs and investments, leaving constituents to remain in a state of fear, questioning whether their water will be coming from a safe and reliable source after September 30.
Closer to home, service line replacement plans have yet to produce major change. Despite millions of state and federal dollars being allocated to recovery efforts, some reports indicate that fewer than 800 of the 29,100 damaged water service lines were removed in 2016, the first year of the project.
Thousands of people are still relying on bottled water for cooking, showering, washing dishes and drinking. Thousands of residents are being forced to pay bills for water they are not sure is safe. Hundreds are suffering from lifelong, debilitating medical issues caused by the water that is still running through their pipes, yet only a small percentage of those affected have been helped.
All contaminated service lines are set to be replaced by the end of 2020, meaning some residents will have been without clean water for six or more years. This is unacceptable.
Not only has the Flint City Council been slow to move on securing a long-term reliable water source and replacing contaminated lead service lines, but they've also eliminated critical language in the city’s request for bid proposals requiring that certified plumbers be on staff to complete the work— a deliberate decision that was almost certainly motivated by cutting costs.
Decisions need to be made, politics must be set aside and personal interests must be left at the door. The people of Flint are looking to government officials to make things right again--to make them feel safe again. The voice of these individuals must be heard. We’re tired of listening to the same “help is on the way” speech. We need to see results.
Now is the time for leaders to step up, make progress and begin to rebuild our trust.
TJ Bucholz is executive director of Michigan Unleaded and president and CEO of Vanguard Public Affairs.