MDEQ & EPA Used to Pressure Flint Council to Vote for State Water Plan
In a press conference called to discuss her water source recommendation on June 20th, Flint Mayor, Karen Weaver delivered a blunt message to the Flint City Council backed up with muscle from the state, in the form of a letter sent to Council President, Kerry Nelson, by MDEQ Director, C. Heidi Grether. The letter, which was distributed to media at the Mayor's press conference, makes the following claim about the money and time that would be required to make the Flint Water Treatment Plant operational:
Under the USEPA's Order, Flint cannot change water sources without extensive testing and planning that must be approved by the USEPA. Moreover, roughly $58,800,000 to $67,900,000 in improvements to the water treatment plant will be required to operate it on a long-term basis. In addition to these costs, such improvements will take approximately 3.5 years to complete.
The MDEQ, which signed off on the operational condition of Flint’s water treatment plant 3 years ago despite warnings from operator Michael Glasgow, now informs the Council that as much as $68,000,000 and 3.5 years of work would be needed to make the plant operational?
Genesee County built their new water treatment plant from scratch in less than that amount of time, for about that much money, but a plant that MDEQ signed off on to operate 3 years ago now needs that much money and time to make it operational?
This strains credulity. But it does put pressure on the Council to approve the recommendation. MDEQ and EPA, agencies that did nothing to protect Flint citizens from lead tainted and improperly treated water 3 years ago, seem to be very helpful in applying pressure on the Flint City Council to approve this deal.
Noting that she made her recommendation public on April 18, 2017, the Mayor also urged the Council to approve the deal:
Since that time my administration and other officials helping to move the city forward have gone above and beyond to provide information to members of Flint City Council about this recommendation, knowing we would need the board’s approval to make the decision official.
Now, despite our efforts, council continues to mislead the public by saying we have not provided them with enough information to make a decision of whether to support the recommendation. And I’m here to say this is simply not true.
Flint City Council was not represented during the lengthy negotiations that produced the Mayor’s recommendation. And at the only public meeting dedicated to a discussion of the recommendation, Council President, Kerry Nelson, told me he was informed of the recommendation on the morning it was announced.
Since then the Council has indeed complained about not getting information they feel they need to make an informed decision.
When we interviewed Councilwoman Kate Fields on May 11, 2017, she told us that the Council had not been provided the actual proposed contract from GLWA, but rather a one page summary of the proposed agreement.
When the Council sought to hire an attorney to review the recommendation, City Attorney, Angela Wheeler, told Council that she would act as their attorney. Council remains interested in having an independent attorney review the details that took so long to hammer out.
Councilwoman Monica Galloway attended the press briefing and asked if the Mayor could explain why the 30-year deal was a better option that something short term. The Mayor said a shorter term option was not available.
The Mayor also told us at the time her recommendation was announced that a rate study was being conducted that would take about 60 days to complete.
We learned at the press conference that this rate study has not been completed. When asked if the Council was expected to vote on her recommendation without knowing what the rates would be, she answered:
They’re expected to vote on the plan, that’s true.