Flint aid caught up in legislative clash on Fraser fix

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — The House and Senate are at odds on how to pay for an emergency fix to a collapsed Fraser pipe, resulting in a possible delay for funneling $100 million to Flint for lead pipe replacement.

Flint’s federal money can’t reach the city until both legislative chambers agree on the supplemental aid plan for the Fraser pipeline fix because the bill served as a federal funding pass through.

The deadlock continued Thursday as the House again approved its original idea to give a $3 million grant to Macomb County for the collapsed Macomb County interceptor, spurning the Senate’s Wednesday approval of a plan to give the region a $5 million no-interest loan.

It means the Fraser and Flint infrastructure aid will be delayed at least two weeks until the Senate returns from spring break.

But House Speaker Tom Leonard spokesman Gideon D’Assandro argued that the disagreement won’t risk any delay because “the administration wasn’t going to pay any of this out until the end of April, anyway.”

D’Assandro said House Republicans spoke with federal officials, Flint lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder’s office to assure that “none of the funding is at risk by waiting, and no projects would be held up,” a point echoed by Flint-area Rep. Phil Phelps, a Democrat.

Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller blasted Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, on Wednesday for orchestrating the rejection of the House grant plan. Macomb County is in a state of emergency because a pipeline collapsed on Christmas Eve, causing a massive sinkhole that has affected dozens of homeowners and resulted in raw sewage flowing into nearby Lake St. Clair during heavy rains.

“This has implications for our entire state, and could cause serious damage to the Great Lakes if sewage continues to enter the Clinton River,” U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, said in a Thursday statement.

Macomb’s Rep. Jeff Yaroch, R-Richmond, and Shelby Township Republican Rep. Peter Lucido also criticized Meekhof.

“We went over there, and we wanted some money because the governor called it a state of emergency,” Lucido said Wednesday. “Evidently, the Senate may have thought it wasn’t a state of emergency and didn’t read the order. That being said, you want to change it to a loan, justify it. Give a credible reason why – something rational, when we have a state of emergency.”

Meekhof argued that giving a grant instead of a loan could lead to a long line of municipalities pleading for state money, which Rep. Daniela Garcia, R-Holland, also argued after voting against the House plan.

Garcia said a grant would “incentivize communities perhaps not to address their problems.”

But Yaroch and others pushed back, citing a list of much larger state grants the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality can award totaling $97 million in 2017.

Meekhof questioned why Macomb County hadn’t applied for one of those grants, and Yaroch told reporters the DEQ advised Macomb lawmakers to instead seek money from a state infrastructure fund with $5 million ready for such projects.

“Why don’t they go that way? They could. They’d be at the bottom of the list, and we have an issue today,” Yaroch said.

Flint lawmakers were also rankled because of the delay.

“I am disappointed that there is a delay in sending these much-needed funds to Flint,” Sen. Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said. “It is my expectation that this will not create a gap in pipeline replacement or other services. I will keep fighting to make sure Flint gets the resources it needs as quickly as possible.”

Rep. William Sowerby, D-Clinton Township, said 150,000 families are impacted whenever it rains, which could threaten “sewage flowing into their basement” and the Great Lakes.