Thursday, January 28, 2016

Flint, MI Water Woes Redux

Yesterday, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore said something I agree with: that sending bottled water to Flint is not a solution:

While he appreciates the generosity put forth by so many corporations and celebrities who continue to send pallets upon pallets of plastic bottles to the city, it’s not the right fix. It’s a short-minded, short-term solution that doesn’t even begin to approach the real problem (MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, 1/27/2016)
Instead, he proposed that the Federal Government take over solving the water contamination problem in Flint, Michigan. Although his heart is in the right place, his idea creates more problems than it solves.

Yes, the now corroded pipes in the Flint water system need to be dealt with. Safe water must be delivered to the residents. This is not the issue. The big issue is that turning this over to the Federal Government will create a very bad precedent. There are many cities and towns in our country who have failed to invest sufficient funds to properly maintain their water infrastructure. These systems not only leak badly, but are prone to the same corrosion problems seen in Flint. If the Federal Government bails out Flint, mayors and city managers from all across the country will line up at the door of whichever Federal agency takes over the problem. This will force the Federal Government to create a whole new bureaucracy just to deal with these water systems — remember, each water system is unique: there can not be a one-size-fits-all solution. The financial cost will rival Medicaid costs or the Department of Defense budget for several decades while the work gets done. And, just when the work is initially complete, these cities and towns will line up again because they have allowed the problem to recur. Of course, to justify its continued existence, this new Federal water distribution bureaucracy will gladly replace these systems again.

A Federal takeover of Flint's water system is unfair to all of those private water companies and municipalities who have done an excellent job maintaining their systems and to those millions of Americans who draw water from their own wells. Why should these Americans pay for the incompetence, criminal negligence and greed of those who did not maintain their water system?

I believe the best solution is for the Federal Courts to order, with Court oversight, Genesee County and the city of Flint to replace the pipes. To do this, the city may have to raise local taxes or contract its service area or both. Like Detroit and many other "Rust Belt" cities, Flint has far fewer residents than twenty or thirty years ago. Tearing down derelict and abandoned houses and businesses can solve many problems, if done right. Demolition and utility replacement can become a source of jobs and job training for many out-of-work residents – providing them with job skills that are portable to other areas and transferable to other forms of construction. With proper planning, this can be a powerful economic engine for Flint for at least a decade, if not longer.

I also agree with Michael Moore when he says the people, including Governor Rick Snyder, should go to jail over what happened in Flint. I believe that this list should include current and previous elected officials of the City of Flint, Genessee County, the State of Michigan and various Federal agencies who allowed the system to deteriorate, failed to raise "red flags" about how the switch to Flint River water was done, and knew or should have known that contamination by lead and other heavy metals was a possibility.

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