Dems’ Senate leader Ananich seeks to create Flint authority for city’s long-term recovery
Michigan Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich said Monday he plans to introduce legislation this week to create a new authority to assist in the long-term recovery of Flint while giving local residents and officials a greater say in their fate.
After an 18-month period of exposure to drinking water that was not treated to prevent lead contamination, the industrial city faces a host of uncertainties on the replacement of lead service lines, the looming switch to a new water source and the long-term health effects of exposure to contaminated water.
The process will take years, said Ananich, D-Flint, and likely outlast all of the current political players working to address Flint’s issues. So a longer-lasting institution is needed for continuity, he said.
“Obviously the relationship between the mayor and the governor is fluid and changing...,” Ananich told The Detroit News. “At some point in time, there will be a new governor, a new mayor and a new legislature, and there still needs to be a vehicle that can have transparency and focus on the long-term efforts.”
Ananich envisions a five-member panel “to help run the long-term recovery while the city is focused on running the day to day and, obviously ... the pipe replacement.” Tentatively called the Flint Recovery Authority, the body would consist of two mayoral appointees, two city council appointees and a fifth member selected from a short list of residents.
It would operate much like the Detroit’s Public Lighting Authority created in 2012 and funded with a portion of the city’s utility user taxes. Ananich also sees the body being able to handle federal, state, local, nonprofit and private dollars aimed at putting Flint and its residents back on solid ground.
But he indicated he is open to changing the legislation — from a possible state appointee to the acceptance of government dollars — to make the authority a reality.
Flint has been reeling from water-related issues since April 2014, when the city run by a state-appointed emergency manager began drawing its drinking water from the Flint River instead of buying it from its longtime supplier, the Detroit Water and Sewerage District.
Over the next 18 months, the city failed to treat the river water with corrosion controls meant to prevent lead contamination. Flint returned to the Detroit-based system in October, but continues to see high levels of lead in tests that leave residents unable to drink the water.
In the fall, the state government admitted fault. The administration of Gov. Rick Snyder has been trying to restore trust in Flint.
But Ananich said Flint residents feel little of substance has happened in the last six months to improve their standard of living.
“The feeling on the ground, unfortunately, is that from September until now... there isn’t much difference,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like.... the sense of urgency that Flint residents would want to see — it doesn’t always feel like that’s transcending into Flint and into action.”
In late April, residents announced the creation of a non-profit community development group to boost Flint recovery efforts with an emphasis on transparency. Lee-Anne Walters, a Flint resident whose own investigative work helped reveal Flint’s lead problems, is among the group’s organizers.
“Everything we say and we do, we do with transparency,” she said on April 25. “We’re going to be real people helping real people in crisis caused by environmental injustices.”
On Monday, Ananich said he understood that mindset and hoped the Flint Recovery Authority might allay concerns about government’s handling of resources targeted for the city’s rebound efforts.
“The problem is it’s very fragmented right now,” Ananich said of the overall response. “There is, I think a perception of a lack of transparency ... because there has been so much talk about resources coming and very little action on the ground, people believe the money has been sent but its not getting spent....”