By Jan Worth-Nelson
While acknowledging that Flint has many hurdles to overcome in recovering from its water crisis, Mayor Karen Weaver said in her first State of the City address Aug. 4 that progress is real and that Flint can become a national model of renewal.
And she vowed to replace “every last lead-tainted pipe in Flint” for every Flint resident “until the job is done.”
Weaver said the next round of the city’s Fast Start pipe replacement program is going out for bids this month with 5,000 more residences targeted for replacements. She reported an application to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for $80 million to repair the water system overall has been submitted and is pending.
She said Flint is “a wonderful place to live” and that Flint can “rise again and be healthy and livable and profitable and sustainable.” She said it could be “a national success story of healing and renewal.”
Weaver delivered her 36-minute speech to an enthusiastic crowd, including friends, family, pastors, many of the well-known actors in the water crisis, along with many state, county and city employees in the mostly-full third-floor city council chambers.
She was introduced by Kerry Nelson, council president, and briefly acknowledged the council members, with whom she recently has been wrangling, in celebrating that “the people of Flint now have control of their government after a long series of emergency managers.” She did not mention the recent Republic/Rizzo trash service contract brouhaha but thanked the council for their work.
Her remarks offered a combination of plusses and minuses, leading however to a conclusion that Flint must rebuild and renew.
In the “good news” column, she noted that crime rates are down in the city, that $3 million has come through to hire more fire fighters, that a new public health officer and a new head of planning and development are coming onboard, that recent investments have been announced by several companies, including C3 Ventures to bring in 400 jobs manufacturing plastic automotive parts. She noted that a $20 million fund was recently announced from the U.S. Department of Transportation to rebuild roads in the city as the water system is overhauled.
She noted the $2.7 million investment by software developer iSource International that will bring in 100 jobs. She also mentioned progress on the park at Chevy Commons and the Capital Theater.
She thanked the C.S. Mott Foundation for galvanizing a 10-philanthropy coalition committing $125 million to six initiatives responding to the water crisis.
In the “bad news” column, she lambasted the U.S. Congress for going into its summer recess “without committing one thin dime for the city,” adding that “the 100,000 residents of Flint must not be a priority” in the face of “the most horrendous water disaster.” She thanked U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee for his efforts, so far unsuccessful, to bring a bill he has sponsored, the Families of Flint Act, up for a vote.
Instead of ignoring the city, she said, she insisted that local, state and federal authorities should support “a total transformation of the Flint water system for the future – our supply lines, our distribution system, and our service lines,” the goal being to create one of the best water systems in the United States – one that doesn’t lose 40 percent of its water through leaks, that isn’t tainted by lead, that runs efficiently and doesn’t charge the highest rates in the country.”
Viewing Flint’s last difficult year through a national lens, she echoed remarks by Kildee to a water resource group earlier in the day that cities like Flint cannot be overlooked.
“When we turn our back on cities, when we neglect our infrastructure, when we allow injustice and inequity to hold back people of color and the economically distressed, when we abandon the key roles of public governance to save a handful of dollars, we can see the tragic results for our cities and families,” she said.
“In the days ahead, we are determined to put us back on the road to recovery because Flint is our home,” she said. “I believe in the city’s people and promise.”
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.