Mayors talk Flint water, infustructure at conference

Jacob Carah
Special to The Detroit News

Calling Flint the “canary in the coal mine,” mayors from across the United States gathered Friday during their winter leadership conference with the Michigan city’s water crisis and the nation’s aging infrastructure at the forefront.

The mayors gathered, they said, to lend support to Flint Mayor Karen Weaver “in her time of crisis,” said Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore mayor and conference president.

“I’m so glad that the Conference of Mayors has (aging infrastructure) as one of the top priorities because what happened in Flint should never happen to another community,” Weaver told her colleagues at a news conference during the three-day winter meeting that began Thursday in Miami Beach, Florida. “I’m sorry that we are the example that people have to learn from but if you don’t learn from us, then you have failed.”

Weaver called for the United States to address water quality issues and stricter standards for testing water in the wake of the water crisis that has engulfed her city since the city switched from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River in 2014.

“Everybody should have clean, affordable water and that’s something we don’t have in Flint and that’s something that is taken for granted,” she said. “And so that’s why the infrastructure issue is so important because one of things we know is that across the country we have aging infrastructure, and what’s happened in Flint could happen anywhere and people tend to forget about that and neglect it because it’s not something you see directly.”

Rawlings-Blake called for infrastructure investment in U.S. cities to avoid another crisis like that in Flint.

“It should not take another incident like Flint, another bridge that collapses before we realize that we have to speak with one voice, not just at the municipal level, but at the federal level, about the need to invest in our infrastructure,” she said.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the second vice president of the conference, called Flint “the canary in the coal mine.”

“There are major infrastructure problems in this country that have been ignored for too many years,” he said. “You either pay now or you pay later. Unfortunately, the latter costs a lot more in treasure and in some instances, the lives of American citizens,” he said, in apparent reference to the nine deaths from Legionnaires’ disease that officials believe stems from Flint’s lead water contamination.

During the news conference, mayors voiced support for Flint’s mayor.

“We believe that a presidential campaign is an ideal time to change the discussion from political rhetoric to identify things we can do to help the citizens we serve.” Rawlings-Blake said. “Namely the state of our water infrastructure and pipes.”

“We know there is no such things as Republican water system or Democratic water, this is not a partisan issue, the right to clean water is a basic human right.”

Rawlings-Blake called on the next president of the United States and Congress to work with the EPA, “to be stewards of our environment and in that spirit look for ways to leverage the funds that are available to tackle this issue of aging infrastructure.”

Landrieu, said the leadership gathering sends a clear message to the current presidential candidates. “You have standing before you a bipartisan group of mayors that represent 80 percent of the population of the United States,” he said.