Flint plan for $100M in fed funding advances to EPA

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing – Flint intends to use $100 million in federal funds to improve its water treatment plant, replace underground pipes and make other system improvements, according to a request submitted Friday by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Congress approved the funding amount last year in response to the Flint water contamination crisis. But the federal Environmental Protection Agency must still review the “intended use plan,” which includes a $20 million match already appropriated by the state.

The formal funding request, submitted by the state on Feb. 17, is similar to the plan Flint Mayor Karen Weaver proposed last month, although wording was changed in some instances to fit federal categories and ensure chances for approval.

“So city officials are glad the process is moving along and we’re one step closer to securing the funding that is crucial to Flint’s recovery,” said Weaver spokeswoman Kristin Moore.

The state would administer the federal aid through the Drinking Water Revolving Fund, providing money to the city in the form of loans it would fully forgive.

The $120 million plan includes $58.5 million to improve the Flint water treatment plan, with construction expected to begin in June, and $40 million to replace underground service lines throughout the city.

Another $10 million would be used for distribution system and transmission main improvements, $10 million for water meter replacement and $1.5 million for technical assistance provided to the city by the state.

The city will have to submit a separate plan for water treatment plant improvements before it could access funding for that purpose, according to the state submission.

The request outlines Flint’s plans to replace roughly 12,000 lead and galvanized steel service lines over the next two years, “removing the risk of potential drinking water lead contamination from service lines.”

City officials also want to improve transmission mains in three areas and replace water mains “in numerous” neighborhoods, which the state environmental department said would minimize water loss, improve efficiency and help optimize corrosion control for lead.

Replacing water meters throughout the city would reduce “unaccounted for water and insure an appropriate rate is charged to customers” according to the federal funding request, “thereby creating a suitable revenue stream to fund future maintenance and replacement needs in the larger system.

Democratic Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, along with a bipartisan coalition of state lawmakers in the U.S. House, helped secure the Flint funding through a law signed in December by then-President Barack Obama.

They have urged the state and city to quickly request $100 million earmarked for any state that receives a federal emergency declaration due to a public health threat from lead or other contaminants in a public drinking water system. Flint is currently the only city that qualifies.

Obama declared a federal emergency in Flint in early 2016. The city, operating under a state-appointed emergency manager, switched to Flint River in April 2014. The harsh water ended up damaging aging pipes and leaking lead into the municipal supply.

State officials initially downplayed resident complaints over the smell and taste of the water, but Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration eventually confirmed elevated lead levels in late 2015 and approved funding to help the city switch back to Detroit’s Lake Huron supply.

Snyder and state legislators have so far appropriated $253.3 million in funding related to the Flint crisis, according to a recent report from the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency.

The state is discontinuing at the end of the month a program that reimbursed Flint residents and businesses for a portion of their water bills, citing recent test results showing lead levels have fallen below federal action limits.

Weaver has asked Snyder to reconsider termination of the program, pointing out the state is still discouraging Flint residents from drinking tap water without a filter.