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Snyder: Feds OK loans for small businesses in Flint

Jacob Carah
Special to The Detroit News

Flint — Gov. Rick Snyder announced Friday the federal Small Business Administration has approved his request for low-interest disaster loans for businesses affected by Flint’s lead-tainted water.

The announcement follows complaints by restaurant owners and other merchants that they’ve had to invest in new equipment and lost money because of the water situation.

“Approval of economic injury disaster loans will help business owners and nonprofits in Flint recover from any damages as a result of the water crisis,” Snyder said in a statement.

The deadline to apply is Nov. 7. More information is available at www.sba.gov/disaster, while Flint businesses can apply at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela.

Earlier Friday, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley toured restaurants in Flint and heard from business owners. He visited Blackstone’s Pub and Grill in downtown Flint, which has invested in an $800 filtration system.

The restaurant also has bottled and boxed water for customers.

“I feel for the people that can’t afford a system like this,” said Patty Bergstrom, manager at Blackstone’s.

“We’ve purchased water for months; we’ve sold boxed water for a year and half now.”

Guiding Friday’s tour, Tom Tederington, east region food supervisor for the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development, said the hardest thing for local businesses to acclimate to are ice machines.

“You can’t flush that. So if you are making ice, and you have not tested your water to a non-detect level, then you shall install a filter or we will put that machine out of order,” he said.

Tederington said the safest bet for businesses is to install a full-system filter.

“A lot of businesses are asking for help to install filters; even an $800 investment is a lot for some,” he said. “A full-facility filter would be wonderful, then we know everything is protected, but the cost of that I don’t know. An estimate would be in the thousands of dollars.”

As part of a behind-the-scenes look into how state and local health departments are conducting water assessment tests at establishments in the city, officials toured the restaurant to discuss the water safety process.

The Agriculture Department has done assessments of 175 to 200 facilities, looking specifically at whether restaurants are using filters. Officials said Friday that no businesses have been shut down due to noncompliance.

“Are they flushing (the water source for five seconds on every use) or are they not using water sources that are not safe to use?” asked Jamie Clover Adams, director of the Agriculture Department.

“... Our approach, and I think it’s the approach our department has always taken, is that we want to work with people. So, if we went on the first round, and they didn’t do it, we followed up with them. The only way we will not work with people is if they say they won’t do it.”

Mark Valacak, a health officer for the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce, noted early on there were problems with trihalomethane, a disinfection byproduct, in the water that have been addressed. In September, the state notified Flint that after roughly eight months, the city no longer was in violation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act for its trihalomethane levels.

Calley said there’s more to Flint than the water crisis.

“People need to come here and really fall in love with the city because there is so much to fall in love with,” Calley said.

“With the opportunities that are downtown and the things that are happening here, I would love for the world to come and see.”