By Tom Travis
The Flint City Council voted to postpone to May 11 an important resolution to enter into a contract for a secondary water source pipeline and also voted to receive an amended 2021 Flint city budget from city administration.
Both items resulted in long discussion among council members and city officials. The council meeting, conducted via YouTube telephonically because of the coronavirus, lasted nearly eight and half hours adjourning at 1:13 a.m.
One item appeared twice on the agenda Monday night– first as a special order then as a reconsideration. The Special Order called by the city administration was to have Eric Oswald, director of the Drinking Water and Environmental Health Division with EGLE to discuss the construction of a secondary water source pipeline.
EGLE spokesman: Secondary water pipeline “urgent and necessary”
Oswald stated the case for having the $14 million pipeline construction contract fulfilled and for the city council to approve it. Noting that the contract had been approved since 2018 with an original completion date of December 2019, Oswald said the new expected completion date is December 2020.
Oswald implored the city council to understand and hear the facts. Among the facts Oswald stated that in the event of a catastrophic single failure point in the city’s primary water source there is only about one day’s worth of water stored in the supply tanks.
Oswald stated the present contract before the council for a five and a half mile long Karegnondi Water Authority secondary water source pipeline, connecting the Genesee County Drain Commission treatment plant to the Flint water treatment plant on Dort Highway, was the only “viable option” for Flint. He noted the contract has met and been approved by the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act and the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Oswald further stated he does not believe Flint has managerial and technical capacity at this time to operate the treatment of water through the city’s own treatment plant, which had not been used for 50 years before the water crisis.. Oswald said the process to meet that managerial and technical capacity would take one to two years.
Councilperson Allan Griggs (8th Ward) who spent his life as a mechanical engineer in the petroleum industry, specifically with water cooling plants for petroleum plants in Saudi Arabia, challenged Oswald, also a trained engineer. Griggs asked why Oswald had said that it would cost “10’s of millions of dollars” to bring the Flint water treatment plant up to code.
Oswald stated that it would cost that much because when using the secondary source the plant would be dealing with raw water from Lake Huron. He said studies would need to be completed, significant changes and upgrades to the treatment plant and managerial and technical training would need to be done.
Griggs rebutted that he has visited the plant twice and saw that it definitely needed upgrading. But in Griggs’ opinion it would cost $5 to $10 million to update the plant, not $10’s of millions.
Griggs pointed out he does not believe building this secondary water source pipeline is actually a “secondary” water source. Griggs argued that because both Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) and the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) get their water from Lake Huron.
He noted a case in 1993 in Milwaukee when a sewage spill into Lake Michigan caused bacteria to get into two water source points for the city. Griggs stated, “God forbid” if a terroirist got something into Lake Huron and both our primary water source and “secondary” water source were contaminated and unusable. Griggs challenged with the question, “what then?” Griggs stated, “I’m looking out for the safety of our city.”
Griggs was emphatic in stating Flint can’t have a back up water line where both the primary water source and the backup water source come from the same body of water.
Councilperson Maurice Davis pleaded with the council both at last weeks’ council committee meeting and in Monday’s council meeting that they “should not delay” and approve this contract. Davis tried to explain the situation of a secondary water source as Flint having a “front door” and a “back door”. Davis explained, we have a ‘front door’ right now but we need a ‘back door,’ is that correct?” he asked Oswald.
Oswald agreed and added that if Flint “has a single point of failure” in the primary water source at this point there is no back up. Just before the vote to postpone Davis stated, “It’s imperative to get this done. It’s overdue.”
Council and city officials discuss ramifications of delay
Council President Monica Galloway (7th ward) explained to Oswald that, “there was a breach of trust with MDEQ [the former name of EGLE] and this community.” Galloway went on to ask Oswald about delays in the in getting to the point of accepting a contract for the project. Galloway asked Oswald to give the council reasons for the delays. Oswald noted there had been design delays, WIIN funding delays, delays in paperwork from the City of Flint getting to the State and finally delays in the obtaining of easements and right of way clearances.
Bincsik stated that bids are good for 60 days. The D’Agostini contract for the secondary water source pipeline was approved on March 12, 2020 meaning that it was good until May 12, 2020. Mays noted that the next council meeting is scheduled for May 11, 2020.
Councilperson Santino Guerra (3rd ward) made the motion to reconsider the contract with D’Agostini and Sons for the secondary water source pipeline. Mays then made a substitute motion to postpone the vote on the reconsideration until the May 11, 2020 meeting, Griggs seconded Mays’ substitute motion.
The council vote on the motion to postpone was 5 yes to 4 no, voting no were Davis (2nd ward), Guerra (3rd ward), Kate Fields (4th ward) and Eva Worthing (9th ward).
City Finance Department presents amended 2020/2021 budget
On March 3, 2020 Mayor Sheldon Neeley presented a $55.6 million budget to the city council. The City Administration is now presenting to the city council an amended budget with a $12 million dollar increase in the bottom line of the budget. In last week’s council committee meeting, City of Flint’s financial advisor Eric Scorsone stated most of the $12 million increase was in legacy or pension costs. Scorsone is an associate professor and director of the Center for Local Government Finance and Policy at Michigan State University.
Councilperson Eric Mays (1st ward) opposed receiving the amended budget arguing that according to the charter there is a set day for the city council to receive a budget from the administration. Mays stated, “we have done that on March 3.” Mays argued the council should continue with the already accepted budget in place and if the city has now found that there are increases necessary they should be presented as separate amendments to the council.
Ultimately, the council voted to receive the budget 6-3 with Mays, Galloway and Winfrey-Carter voting no. Once the amended budget was received, Eric Scorsone and Amanda Trujillo discussed what Trujillo described as “a presentation of differences,” meaning differences between the original budget presented to council March 3, 2020 and the amended budget.
The amended budget changes were discussed without the public’s ability to see it either online or in a hard copy form. City finance officials and the council could see the Power Point presentation during the meeting, but the public could not see what was being discussed.
The the amended Flint City 2021 budget is now available for the public to view on the City’s website.
The public will be able to view and comment on the amended 2021 City of Flint budget at the YouTube/Telephonic city council meeting starting 5:30 p.m. Monday, May 11.
EVM Assistant Editor and City Beat reporter Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.