Column: While we were dealing with the water crisis…
By Paul Rozycki
As Flint works its way through its water crisis, the range of problems seem overwhelming. Every time it looks like we’ve solved one problem, another rears its head.
At first it seemed that all we needed to do was replace the old lead pipes in the homes that had them, as difficult and expensive as that might be. But getting the lead out of the water may be more complex than simply replacing lead pipes—some of the homes with the highest lead levels had copper plumbing rather than lead. It also seems that there may be problems with galvanized pipes or fixtures inside the houses.
For as encouraging as Mayor Weaver’s Fast Start program has been, right now it looks like it’s time to say ‘not so fast’ and make sure we are tackling the real cause of Flint’s problems, before we invest all the money and effort in digging up the city.
To be sure, that will not sit well with an understandably impatient city that has been waiting too many months for a lasting solution to endless cases of bottled water, expert reports, celebrity visits and political promises. The impatience, frustration and anger is justifiable as the city tries to work its way through each new problem.
But it will happen. It won’t be quick or easy, but it should be done right.
Having said that, all is not gloom and doom in Flint. Some of our more positive stories have been submerged in the Water Crisis stories. (I told you a few months ago it was hard to get away from these water analogies.)
The Karegnondi Pipeline
One of the best good news stories that’s been overlooked is the impending completion of the Karegnondi Pipeline–the 70-mile-long pipeline that will connect Genesee, Lapeer and Sanilac counties to a dependable source of Lake Huron water.
(Karegnondi is Huron-Petan Indian word for “big lak”e and was an early Indian name for Lake Huron.)
While Flint has been embroiled in its water crisis the Karegnondi project has been progressing on schedule, and is $15 million under its $300 million projected budget. When was the last time a large government project like this came in on time and under budget?
With less than 10 miles of pipe left to install, it should be done by mid-summer, though water testing, as a result of Flint’s problems, may delay the full usage of Karegnondi’s water for about six months.
The project should provide Flint and Genesee County residents with a dependable, clean water supply at an affordable price. The hope is that it could be a boost to both agricultural and industrial growth in the region. A few weeks ago Genesee County Drain Commissioner Jeff Wright presented an overview of pipeline project at the Sloan Museum. Those interested in more details and Wright’s presentation should check out the Karegnondi website, <karegnondi.com>.
Kettering’s home loan program
The second project has nothing to do with water (finally). Kettering University, which has been a leader in the restoration of Atwood Stadium and the University Avenue Corridor is offering its employees a forgivable $15,000 loan if they purchase a home in one of three neighborhoods surrounding the college. Employees who already live in those areas can receive a comparable $5000 loan to improve their property. For a city that has lost so much of its population (and tax base) this should be a boost not only to the Kettering neighborhood, but to all of Flint. Let’s hope that Mott College, Baker and the University of Michigan-Flint (and other organizations) will consider similar programs. It’s a step in the right direction to rebuilding Flint.
Remaking the Cultural Center
The third piece of overlooked news, as reported in January’s East Village Magazine, is the revitalizing of the Cultural Center. Built in Flint’s auto heyday and considered by many to be the “jewel of Flint,” the Cultural Center will be seeing a major remake over the next few years.
The Sarvis Center is being demolished to make way for a dramatically enhanced Grand Lawn, which will provide space for a terraced amphitheater for musical concerts and a grand entrance to the Cultural Center. Plans are in place for the expansion of the Sloan Museum and a move of the Buick Gallery from its present location.
Similarly, the Flint Institute of Arts is looking towards its own expansion in the near future. The overall plan is to expand the Cultural Center to connect Mott Community College, the U of M-Flint and the downtown. What is remarkable is that the city and its leaders are able and willing to tackle this project now, when we don’t have the auto industry money and jobs that we had when the Cultural Center was first built in the early 1960s. It says a lot about the commitment that Flint’s major institutions have to the city—even in its most troubled times.
Flint hosts presidential debates
A final piece of good news is the way Flint handled the presidential debates, two days before the Michigan primary, in early March. Many from the national media came to Flint expecting to see only the worst images of “Roger and Me” and “The City that Poisoned its Kids.”
There’s no doubt those images were there, but they also saw a well-organized debate, a welcoming city, all framed in the impressive setting of The Whiting. They saw larger and brighter picture of Flint and more than a few of them said so in their reporting. In addition, the voters of Flint (and all of Michigan) came through as well, turning out in record-breaking numbers, surpassing the primary turnout in 1972.
And those are only four major developments that have been taking place while we have been overwhelmed with the Water Crisis. There are probably a hundred others that deserve our attention.
So it’s worth remembering as we dig our way out of mountains of plastic water bottles, fact-finding reports, Congressional hearings, costly lawsuits, impassioned marches, celebrity visits and political pronouncements, that the new Flint is still quietly building for the future—just below the surface of its troubled waters.
EVM columnist Paul Rozycki can be reached at email@example.com.