By Meghan Christian
A plan for eight water-related projects totalling $132.9 million for the city of Flint was approved following a public hearing July 23 by the Flint City Council (FCC).
But the council, along with several members of the audience of about 30 residents, expressed displeasure that the presentation on the proposal came almost two months later than expected, that a promised public forum on the plan never happened, and that the estimates for the work to be done are millions of dollars more than funds available.
Ed Thorp, representing AECOM, a global engineering design firm coordinating since January the city’s pipe replacement project, described the following projects:
- Water meter replacement totaling $18.4 million
- Reservoir and pumping station improvements for $10.1 million
- Creation of a secondary water supply for $9.1 million
- Changing the Northwest transmission water main from a 24” pipe to a 16” diameter pipe for $12.3 million
- Water quality monitoring for $612,000
- Water main replacement for $68.9 million
- A new chemical feed building for $3.4 million
- Service line replacement contingency for $10 million
According to Thorp, with back up by Director of Public Works Robert Bincsik, $80 million from the federal Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) grant funds — which were approved by Former President Obama in late 2016 — will go toward these projects. When pressed on where the rest of the funding would come from, however, neither Thorp nor Bincsik had a direct answer.
“The reason why we put forth $132 million in projects is because we are not entirely sure what the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] is going to approve, so they may not approve some of those projects, and we may be able to build some of those projects cheaper than estimated,” Bincsik said.
Seventh Ward Councilwoman Monica Galloway said in her view the presentation came a few months too late, as the engineering company pledged during an introductory community forum at Mott Community College Feb. 1 that they would hold another forum for the residents on May 31. That forum was not held.
“The meeting that was held at the Mott Event Center, when you all rolled out your introduction to the community, the ending of that meeting was under the impression … that you would come before the community again in May,” Galloway said.
“And I can say for the record, I know that you guys have come and done a presentation in the committee room, but I am wondering, based on what’s been said, if you guys are not going to follow up like you said and do the same caliber of a meeting … to answer the questions that are being discussed,” Galloway added.
Residents who spoke were equally concerned about the cost of AECOM’s proposed projects. Jeff Shelley, a resident of the Eighth Ward, asked, “Where’s the money coming from?” One resident, Shirley Taylor, suggested Michigan Governor Rick Snyder should be the one to have to pay the costs of fixing the water system, not the residents of Flint.
“This is Snyder’s doing and we’re paying the price,” Taylor said. “He should have to pay for everything he’s caused in Flint, Michigan.”
Addressing AECOM’s Thorp, Eric Mays said, “I’m tripping that y’all would come to us on the last day, $40 million or $50 million short and the whole time we’ve been looking at this project plan, we didn’t know that.”
Cost was not the only concern residents had. Quincy Murphy, a regular at FCC meetings, touched on the lack of communication and access to materials with the residents on this topic. “This council should be packed. Had people known this public hearing … I just think we not doing a great job,” Murphy said.
Another resident, Beth Stephens, said she was concerned with what chemicals would be added to the water to treat it at the new proposed chemical feed building.
“When he said chlorine added to the water, I kind of got stuck. I’m scared of chlorine in Flint water,” Stephens said. “I just hope they’re safer with our water than they were in the beginning,” she added.
Ultimately, FCC approved AECOM’s proposed project plan application by a vote of five in favor, one opposed, and one abstention. Those in favor were Davis, Fifth Ward Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter, Sixth Ward Councilman and Council President Herb Winfrey, Eighth Ward Councilman Allan Griggs, and Ninth Ward Councilwoman Eva Worthing.
Galloway voted “no” due to her wish to move the discussion back to the finance committee. Mays said he abstained for the same reason, and also because of the concerns raised by his colleagues.
Third Ward Councilman Santino Guerra and Fourth Ward Councilwoman Kate Fields were absent.
Appointments, hires, and continued employment
FCC approved five appointments, hired Martin Frelich as an inventory control consultant for the city’s water pollution control division until June 30, 2020, and continued the employment of Steven Hauger as a facilities technical consultant for the utilities department until June 30, 2020. Both positions are for $35 an hour, not exceeding $35,000 in one year, with no fringe benefits. Other appointments included Loyst Fletcher, George Hamo, Chia Morgan, and Karen Lopez, all to serve seven-year terms expiring June 28, 2025, for the Local Officers Compensation Commission (LOCC); Linda Pylypiw for reappointment to the Flint District Library Board for a three-year term; and Amanda Trujillo as deputy city treasurer.
While most of the appointments and hires passed with little-to-no opposition, some council members raised concerns regarding some of the candidates for the LOCC. About Chia Morgan, Worthing stated, “I just don’t think she has the experience necessary for this board and so my vote will be no.”
Mays abstained from voting on the appointments of Fletcher, Hamo, and Morgan due to Mays not having had the opportunity to speak with the candidates before the vote. He said he felt comfortable voting for Lopez due to a phone call he had with her.
The council passed seven additional resolutions Monday covering a variety of the city’s needs.
One approved fire insurance for some of the city’s Genesee County Land Bank properties.
Safe Routes to School grant application endorsed
Another approved a plan from the Crim Fitness Foundation to serve as agent for the city in seeking $752,000 in Safe Routes to School from the Federal Highway Administration office of planning, environment and realty. funding to act as agent on behalf of the City to improve sidewalks, crosswalks, signage, and more at Neithercut (Eighth Ward), Freeman (Ninth Ward), Pierce (Seventh Ward), and Doyle/Ryder (Fifth Ward) elementary schools in Flint.
The city commits to owning,operating, funding and implementing a maintenance program over the design life of the facilities constructed.
According to Cade Surface, Crim’s representative at the meeting, the grant also would fund “safety programming such as walking clubs, biking clubs, and student safety patrols at all four of the schools.”
Marijuana facility rubrics approved
Council passed the merit review scoring rubric to rate medical marijuana facility applicants that will have the opportunity to apply during a 45-day window set by the c24ity’s medical marijuana ordinance enacted May 14.
Collective bargaining with firefighters
FCC approved a collective bargaining agreement with the Flint Firefighters Union. According to Fire Chief Barton, while he believes the city’s firefighters deserve more, his staff is understanding of the financial struggles Flint faces. “We tried to restructure the contract where everybody was able to receive something and not hurt the city,” Barton said.
Barton then added the fire department was aware of its status as a “training hub,” its inability to keep younger firefighters on staff, and how they used this agreement to remedy that. “I have … my treasurer and vice president here, they have seniority, so they were willing to take less pay to pay these younger firefighters so we can keep them,” he said.
Tensions, lack of respect addressed
In the aftermath of a disagreement between Maurice Davis and Mays that occurred in a committee meeting before the regular meeting, some council members used their final comments to place blame where they thought it was due.
“There is something going on with Mr. Mays to have that many complaints, not just from council,” Worthing said, adding that she was in support of Galloway, chair of the committee meeting when Davis and Mays argued Mays had left the meeting by the time of Worthing’s remarks.
“We see a man that cannot control himself and then throws a fit, so when we talk about respect there are people who are capable of respecting others and there are some that will never respect another human being a day in their life,” Worthing added.
Others used their final comments to address how they interact with one another and the need to follow council rules. “We have to protect one another by the respect we give and when a person is out of order, the person that is chairing, don’t get into the melee with that out-of-order person,” Winfrey said.
Davis, chairman of the rules committee, called a rules committee meeting for next week, so that council can go over their rules and make any changes needed. “Once we look at those rules and have some robust debate on them, then let’s follow them to the letter of the law,” Winfrey said. “When you have the rules, you don’t have to argue with anybody,” he added.
EVMManaging Editor Meghan Christian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.