Tlaib holds out for better deal on social spending, infrastructure bills

Will Snyder’s $195M plan kick start more aid for Flint?

Melissa Nann Burke, Leonard N. Fleming, Jonathan Oosting and Jacob Carah
The Detroit News

Gov. Rick Snyder is expected Wednesday to propose a $195 million plan for new state aid to address Flint’s lead-contaminated water, but it may not help break a congressional logjam on federal aid for the city.

The Republican governor will make his pitch for Flint assistance Wednesday in a more than $55 billion state budget presentation. But it may not assist on Capitol Hill, where a proposed Flint package has faced opposition in the GOP-controlled Senate for fear of driving up the nation’s debt and because the state hasn’t unveiled a comprehensive plan for infrastructure and other needs.

Some money in the governor’s Flint plan is expected to be targeted at infrastructure issues in Flint, though the Snyder administration wouldn’t confirm an amount. The $232 million Flint plan — which includes legislatively approved $28 million in aid and $9.3 million to reconnect the city to the Detroit water system — is expected to include another supplemental funding proposal to speed more state aid to Flint.

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“We’re making a significant investment in the recovery of Flint,” Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said. “Gov. Snyder is committed to making the city stronger through efforts focused on safe water, but also food and nutrition, education, health and infrastructure.”

The governor’s plan will follow the Tuesday unveiling of Flint Mayor Karen Weaver’s $55 million “fast-start plan” to replace residential lead pipes in the city. The amount matches an early estimate by the Snyder administration on the cost of replacing or partially replacing lead pipes connecting to residential homes from the city water system.

Weaver wants to partner with the state in a month, with priority given to high-risk households. The Lansing Board of Water & Light would provide Flint officials with technical advice on how to unearth and replace the city’s sprawling 550-mile-long network of iron pipes containing toxic lead that has tainted the water supply.

“We are going to restore safe drinking water one house at a time, one child at a time until the lead pipes are gone,” she said. “We are ready to roll up our sleeves and get the lead out of Flint.”

The Snyder administration is reviewing Weaver’s plan, but it may take more time to agree on a plan for removing lead pipes.

“Experts say that the best plan is to first coat the pipes with phosphates to inhibit corrosion, then conduct a study to determine which pipes need to be replaced,” Murray said, adding that they are mapping the location of pipes and comparing with water testing results “to target priority areas and best protect Flint residents.”

Replacing Flint’s entire water distribution network, if necessary, could cost $712.8 million and take up to 15 years to complete, according to emails Snyder released last month.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, also is crafting a statewide infrastructure funding plan. He is “looking both at how the Senate can assist Flint to improve damaged infrastructure, and put a program in place to assist other communities to upgrade and improve existing infrastructure,” spokeswoman Amber McCann said.

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Resistance in Congress

The city and state developments come as Michigan’s congressional delegation has sought infrastructure as well as health and nutritional assistance for lead exposure in Flint. In the U.S. Senate, an effort by Democratic U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township to wedge a Flint funding package of up to $600 million into an energy policy bill has run into resistance.

In the GOP-led House, two separate Flint infrastructure bills are pending. There is a $1 billion supplemental proposal for infrastructure aid by U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, and a broader proposal by U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, that would authorize $385 million in direct grants for Flint to inspect, repair or replace public and private water service lines and to fund corrosion control programs.

There also is proposed House aid to deal with the nutritional, educational and health needs of Flint’s nearly 9,000 children 6 or younger who have been exposed to lead-contaminated drinking water.

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama proposed increasing federal spending next year for a state drinking water infrastructure fund by $157 million, an 18 percent increase over last year, to assist with projects in communities affected by water contamination such as Flint. The fiscal year 2017 request by the Democratic president faces an uncertain greeting in the Republican-controlled Congress.

“It was not a direct relationship with Flint, but I think that Flint and other communities are a clear indication of the need to continue to upgrade our infrastructure and invest,” Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters on a Tuesday call.

The fund is a low-interest loan program requiring a 20 percent match from the state, and is intended for communities needing to upgrade transmission lines, expand facilities and make other waterworks improvements.

In January, Obama allocated $80 million to Michigan in water infrastructure and water treatment loans. Only $20 million of the amount is designated for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund that could be used to replace lead service lines.

Flint would potentially be eligible for up to $17 million of the $20 million Drinking Water State Revolving Fund allocation. A federal rule requires that 15 percent of the annual award to a state loan fund be available solely for loan assistance to small public water systems — those regularly serving fewer than 10,000 people.

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State money for service lines

It’s unclear how soon any of the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund financing could be issued to help Flint replace its service lines.

Staff from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality are working with the city and consulting engineers on a project plan for Flint to submit for financing, said Melanie Brown, a spokeswoman for the state DEQ.

Michigan’s DEQ is allowed by law to change the state’s plan to expedite funding for Flint in the current fiscal year, Brown said.

“Whether or not we can expedite funding to Flint is dependent on when a project plan is received from Flint,” she said.

Kildee has been urging the Michigan DEQ to approve some of the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund money in the form of low-interest or forgivable loans to replace lead service lines on private property.

Flint did not apply for financing through the state Drinking Water State Revolving Fund last year, for which the DEQ committed to 33 loans totaling $240 million to other communities, including Detroit and Pontiac.

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