Flint water is improving but city will need financial help, mayor says
Karen Weaver attributes ‘upward trend’ of lead-contaminated water supply and drop in crime to Flint once again being in control of its own government
-by Ryan Felton, originally posted on August 5, 2016
The city of Flint is on an “upward trend” after a two-year water crisis, its mayor said on Thursday. Karen Weaver also said, however, that the Michigan city will need financial aid to fix problems stemming from widespread lead contamination.
In her first state of the city speech, Weaver said a revitalization of Flint had been under way before the water crisis emerged. “Entrepreneurship was taking hold,” she said, “along with a growing faith in the future.”
Opening her 35-minute address at Flint city hall, Weaver said: “While I’m well aware of many of the hurdles Flint still has to overcome, I want to start off by saying that we are making progress.”
For one thing, she said, the people of Flint have regained control of their government after state-appointed emergency managers ran the city from 2011-2015. Residents have said the appointments by Michigan governor Rick Snyder were chiefly to blame for the water crisis. In summer 2013, an emergency manager moved to switch the city’s water source to a polluted river.
Weaver acknowledged that a Snyder adviser, in the room for her speech, had been a designated point-person in the recovery efforts.
The speech came after criminal charges were filed by the Michigan attorney general’s office. Half a dozen state environmental and health workers were charged with felonies and misdemeanors for their alleged involvement in exacerbating the water crisis.
The city has plenty to be optimistic about, Weaver said. A long-term effort to remove its network of lead pipes commenced this year, and noticeable improvements have emerged elsewhere: for instance, crime rates have dropped. In a city seen across the US as a murder capital, that was an “area of good news”, Weaver said.
“We know our police department was nearly cut in half in the past decade and a lot of that happened under emergency managers. But police chief Timothy Johnson and the dedicated officers who serve Flint … are making sure our streets are safe and everyone is treated with respect.”
Despite having a rail-thin budget, Flint has been able to fill several top management positions with experienced and diverse individuals, Weaver said. The newly hired police chief has been “really busy” and a new grant, if approved, would allow for an additional 33 firefighters to be hired.
The state of Michigan has appropriated more than $240m to address issues related to the crisis, but Weaver said any positive momentum would peter out unless more funds were found. In particular, she cited a $220m financial aid package that remains pending in the US Senate.
“We continue to pay a price through lower home values, lead-tainted water … ongoing health concerns and lack of jobs,” Weaver said. “The families and children of Flint didn’t deserve what happened to them, but they do deserve to get the help they need going forward.
“The people of Flint cannot wait for help much longer. The leadership for the US Senate must bring this said to the floor and pass it.”
With that funding, Weaver said, Flint should aim to produce sound infrastructure made for the 21st century.
“Our goal should be to create one of the best water systems in the United States,” she said.
Measures should also be taken, she said, to help the city’s children – an estimated 9,000 of them under six years old.
“We must not, and we will not, let any child in Flint slip through the cracks and fail to get the services needed to deal with health and educational concerns caused” by the water crisis, Weaver said, pointing to changes at the city’s school system.
“All of our public schools have lead-free water fixtures,” she said.
Weaver said the city was in a position to be a model for addressing lead pollution issues for years to come.
“Flint can be the beginning of a lead-free America,” she said.