Rubin: Flint suburb has issues, too – but swifter fixes

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Grand Blanc – — It’s OK to walk into Leslee’s Salon and ask about the water, because they were probably talking about it anyway.

Leslee’s sits opposite city hall in Grand Blanc, where the average home value is four times as high as Flint’s and the water is pristine. Technician Angi DeLong, who’s in the early stages of applying a set of acrylic nails, is on her fourth client of the day and Flint has come up every time.

“Even if it isn’t us,” she says one morning last week, “we’ve all probably been to a Flint restaurant. We drank pop with Flint ice in it.”

There has been a faint dusting of snow, and across Grand Blanc Road, a young man in a hooded sweatshirt is swiftly clearing it from the city hall walkway.

“My kids have friends in Flint,” DeLong is saying. “I had to ask my son, ‘Did you drink the water when you were over there?’ ”

There’s nothing so vital that we spend so little time thinking about as water. You turn a handle, it comes out of a spout. Every three months you write a check, and the water keeps coming.

It kept coming in Flint, too, these past two years — no matter how befouled.

Forget the poison, the tiny particles of lead flowing from faucets and settling in the bones of children. Forget the rashes.

Or ignore them, at least, just for the moment. Consider what would happen where you live if something rank and off-color filled your sink.

Would it take nearly two years for somebody to start figuring out a way to solve the problem?

Or would it take two hours?

Genuine concern

Grand Blanc is a placid community of about 8,000 people four miles south of Flint. It’s probably best known for a professional golf tournament that used to be held at a country club just outside the city limits.

By reputation, it’s a collection of bedrooms for the doctors and lawyers who work in the struggling city at the heart of Genesee County.

It’s more than that, of course, and it’s a place where you’ll find people genuinely concerned about what’s gone on in Flint, where a relatively poor population in a declining industrial town had no elective control and no voice.

Grand Blanc also is a place, like Bloomfield Hills or Rochester Hills or Auburn Hills or Farmington Hills or anyplace else with enough money and clout where brown water would not flow unchecked.

Dan Harrett, a retired environmental engineer, is director of the Grand Blanc Heritage Museum. It’s in the city hall building, and you’ll find Harrett and the other volunteers there from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesdays.

He can tell you when water was last an issue in Grand Blanc: 2004, when the federal government changed the rules about allowable parts-per-million for arsenic.

The city, which has owned its own water system since 1937, quickly passed a millage to install what’s known as ultra-filtration.

When it comes to purity, he says, “Basically, we have bottled water.”

See it, fix it

For the record, Harrett considers Flint’s water issue to be somewhat overblown. Much of the city, he says, particularly where there are newer pipes, is problem-free.

He also says that what’s gone on there could not happen in his town.

“We have a very diligent, very responsive city government,” he explains, along with voters who are used to being heard when they feel the need to holler.

Two hours? Make it 90 minutes.

“We’ve had calls,” says Nancy Orr, the accounting clerk and deputy treasurer — not of complaint, but of concern.

No, she’ll say, Grand Blanc uses groundwater wells, not the Flint River. No, you don’t need a filter; that robo-call you just found on your answering machine was a baited hook from a scammer or a jackal.

“Water,” she says. “You never think of it.”

Eddie Barbieri is collecting bottles of it at his Da Edoardo North, the Grand Blanc cousin of the Da Edoardo restaurants in Foxtown and Grosse Pointe Woods. He’ll pass them on to relief agencies in Flint.

“In my opinion,” he says, “everybody is at fault here, from the top to the bottom.”

But that’s under the bridge. Now it’s like a problem at the restaurant.

“When something goes wrong,” he says, “right away, you have to fix it” — no matter who’s telling you about it, or where they live.