Our Editorial: Oversight of Flint recovery is lacking
Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency in Flint two years ago this month, following a preventable spike of lead in the city’s water supply. In that time, the city has made significant strides — thanks to an influx of funds from the state and federal government — and for the most part, water is now safe to drink. But some troubles remain as Flint strives to move beyond the crisis.
The Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter to the city of Flint and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in December asking officials to spend the $100 million in federal funds granted for repairs to the Flint water system after the crisis. The lack of communication between the EPA, the state of Michigan and the city of Flint points to issues of leadership.
And this dearth of coordination deserves the attention of state leaders.
Of the $100 million, $51.5 million is directed to replacing lead service lines and similar projects. Plans for the rest of the money are unclear. And as of Nov. 16, 2017, only $192,972 of the federal funds had been spent, according to the EPA.
Some projects have begun, but others were delayed due to the City Council dragging its feet on signing an agreement with the Great Lakes Water Authority, according to Flint Mayor Karen Weaver’s office in a statement responding to the EPA’s letter.
Last fall, a federal judge had to force the City Council to vote on a long-term drinking water source. In October, the judge called the council’s months of dawdling on a decision and lack of leadership “breathtaking.”
It was an obvious decision, but the council still barely agreed (with a 5-4 vote) to sign the 30-year deal with the Great Lakes Water Authority in November. The GLWA, Metro Detroit’s water supplier, has provided water for Flint since the fall of 2015, following the disastrous switch officials made to get water from the Flint River. That improperly treated water sparked the leaching of lead into the drinking water. The council had mulled going with the new Karegnondi Water Authority, as originally planned before the crisis.
Since Flint is still dealing with the aftermath of a crisis, it could use some help, especially given its history of corruption at City Hall. Taxpayers who funded millions in recovery efforts and lead pipe replacement deserve some assurance that money is being put to good use.
A body directly overseeing recovery efforts seems essential. We’ve previously encouraged such an oversight entity. In May 2016, Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich of Flint proposed creating a five-member panel to oversee long-term recovery and pipe replacement so the city could continue to focus on day-to-day work. 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 list of residents.
Little happened with the original proposal, but it deserves reconsideration. If a focused authority were put in place, it could help ensure better communication between all the sources of financial aid and the city.
Flint has the money it needs to fix its water system. Clear leadership is now necessary to keep recovery efforts moving efficiently.