By Jan Worth-Nelson
Water credits for Flint residents may be ending Feb. 28, but several other key elements of the state’s response will continue, according to Richard Baird, senior advisor to Governor Rick Snyder. Services which will not end, he affirmed, include bottled water availability, operation of the water distribution sites called PODS, lead line replacement, and a program to replace in-house faucets damaged by the water debacle.
Baird delivered comments to about 80 Flint Recovery Group community partners Thursday under the dome at City Hall.
Regarding the water credits, Baird said, “I wish I could deliver better news, but not this time. I do want to clarify that when the water credits were introduced, it was consistently understood that the water credits would conclude when the water would be judged good to drink.”
Water credits cutoff timeline contested
He contested Mayor Karen Weaver’s contentions this week that the water credits cutoff came unexpectedly, saying city officials had been warned since at least last December that the action was linked to improved water quality. He detailed a chronology of how water treatment data presented at a water summit in late January confirmed the water met state and federal water quality standards.
The mayor and the governor had met Tuesday, but according to Baird’s account, Weaver and her interim Chief Financial Officer David Sabuda “acknowledged they [the credits] were going to end in February,” but that they told the Governor, “we thought we could talk you out of that money.”
Baird said that when Snyder first went to the state legislature requesting funds to cover the water credits, the legislature approved $30 million, which covered the credits through November. When the water quality still had not been verified to meet standards, Snyder went back to legislature, Baird said, requesting another $12 million to cover the credits through March. But after the January summit of regulators, scientists and other water experts confirmed the water met federal standards, Baird said, the governor believed he could not ask for more water credits.
“He’s not the king”
“He’s not the king,” Baird said. “He’s got a legislative body and his legislative leaders told him you only get to authorize these credits until the water is fit to drink. He did not feel he had the power to override.”
At the January water summit, scientists and state officials said their data indicated the water was measuring 8 ppb (parts per billion) for lead, well below the federal standard of 15 ppb federal limit. Shortly thereafter, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality issued a press release saying the water was “at standards.”
Baird said the credits could have ended in mid-January, but he persuaded the governor to extend them through February to give the city more time to get out the word.
He said even though “using a filter is a personal choice,” state officials will continue to provide water filters for Flint residents despite improved tested water quality, “to make sure that what’s coming out of that filtered tap is absolutely safe.”
“Not because the water’s bad…”
Baird said the ongoing call for filter use is “not because the water’s bad, but because the infrastructure is old.” He said particulate lead can chip off faucet aerators and j-joints, and, he noted, ongoing risk is heightened by ongoing disruptions “that we’re taking out 6,000 pipes a year” and those excavations can dislodge remaining contaminants.
Some residents complained that court-mandated CORE team visits to inform residents about water and filter availability availability had been unsatisfactory — that the team did not come in and gave perfunctory answers to questions. Baird urged unsatisfied residents to call CORE at 810-238-6700.
Steven Branch, Mayor Weaver’s chief of staff, also spoke at the meeting and briefly repeated the basics, that the city had received a letter Feb. 7 stating water credits would end Feb. 28. As the Mayor had declared in two press conferences this week, Branch said, “She doesn’t think credits should end, the request to continue the credits was denied, and here we are.”
He called on residents to speak up to their representatives.
“I know that your collective voice is better than a single voice,” Branch said. “So make your voices known in Lansing. If you have any constructive suggestions for the city of Flint, we’re willing to listen.”
EVM editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.