Three years after the beginning of the Flint Water crisis, the city has reached a new milestone. This month, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver announced the city is a year ahead of schedule in tackling a court-mandated order to deal with lead service lines.
WKAR’s Karel Vega spoke with Mayor Weaver about what’s next for the city, and her thoughts on Michigan's lame-duck legislative session and the incoming administration.
HARDWICK: Welcome back to Current State from WKAR, your NPR station for the capitol region. I’m Reginald Hardwick.
WEAVER: And I’m just going to start this press conference by saying thank God.
HARDWICK: That was Mayor Karen Weaver last week when she announced her city’s lead pipe replacement program is a year ahead of schedule. The replacement program is a response to the city’s lead tainted water crisis. Over the past two years, the city has checked more than 18,000 service lines connecting Flint homes to city water mains. Nearly 8,000 lead and galvanized pipes were replaced with copper. On Friday, Mayor Weaver talked with WKAR’s Karel Vega about what’s ahead in the new year, starting with the pipes.
WEAVER: We want to really get ahead of this because we’ve been waiting for such a long time. And so, to get there, we had until the end of 2019. So, to get there before the end of 2018 was a really, really good thing and it was exciting and it was a great announcement for the city of Flint. And so, we’ve continued – we didn’t stop, and so we’re still addressing those other pipes that we talked about, because one thing we want to do is be sure that we have addressed this issue across the city.
VEGA: Now that you are ahead of schedule, is there a new timeline that the city is following for the expected completion of this project?
WEAVER: Well, you know what, we are looking to be finished by the end of July of 2019 which would still make us ahead of schedule because, like I said, we have until the end of December of 2019, or you could say the first of 2020. So, we will still be ahead of schedule, and that’s what we want to have happen.
VEGA: Can residents drink the tap water yet?
WEAVER: No, I am not signing off on that because one thing: we’ve talked with the EPA and nothing has changed as far as what they’ve recommended when you have this amount of construction going on is to stay on bottled and filtered water, and so, that’s the recommendation. And even once we have all of the pipes replaced, I want to meet with the medical community and see what is their time frame as far as testing and how much testing do they want to see and attain certain results before they say, okay let’s give the all clear.
VEGA: Mayor Weaver, a judge has now ruled that Michigan’s Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells will head to trial on manslaughter charges in relation to the Flint Water Crisis. Do you have any comments on this recent development?
WEAVER: Really my comment remains the same. We have been waiting for accountability in the city of Flint and we know what happened here was criminal, so we have been looking for accountability ever since this water crisis started. So, one thing that I have learned to do is to stay in my lane and let the legal process play itself out. But, we’re going to see. We’re going to see what happens, but we know that people should be held accountable because we had loss of life here in the city of Flint and that should not go unaccountable.
VEGA: How would you respond to criticism from some groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, that the city has prioritized digging holes around the city as opposed to actually replacing the pipes.
WEAVER: Well, if you don’t dig a hole, you can’t replace a pipe – number one. You have to dig the hole to see what’s in there, and we did prioritize, so we have a difference of opinion with them. Like I said, if you don’t dig how can you replace? So, when you open it up and find out it’s copper to copper, we’re supposed to leave it in place, and that’s what we’ve done. So, I am going to stay focused on what it is we are trying to do and that’s get all of the lead out of the city of Flint. And for someone to say that we haven’t prioritized, I think that is incorrect information. I think that’s a shame because we ought to be celebrating what has happened in the city of Flint. We have been ahead of schedule, and we got so much done and so much accomplished, and we will be getting those other pipes done. Or maybe I shouldn’t even say that – I should say we’ll be excavating and those that are lead or galvanized, we will replace, and we will get that done before we were supposed to get this 18,000 done. So, some people don’t like good news, but it’s good news for the people of Flint. And I am going to stay focused on what it is I’m supposed to do.
VEGA: We’re speaking with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver about the announcement this week that the city is a year ahead of schedule in its effort to replace lead pipes around the city. Mayor Weaver, as the lame duck session continues at capitol, do you see anything being done for Flint?
WEAVER: You know what, it almost reminds me of what happened in Flint, to be perfectly honest. It looks like they’ve put in a bigger RTAB at the state level. And that is what the legislature is acting like – like the RTAB that was set aside in Flint where they are taking away executive power and doing what they want to do. They’ve taken away the voice of the people. And I’m going to tell you, it’s a little discouraging because you talk to so many people about the importance of their vote. And when people say okay, I’m going to come and vote, and then it’s like their vote has been taken because what you have put in place doesn’t matter and the people that you’ve put in place to lead the vision that they’ve talked about doesn’t matter. And I think it’s sad, but it’s what we’ve experienced right here in the city of Flint with the emergency managers and having an RTAB and having our voice taken. People voted for – and we thought it was a democracy, and you find out that it’s not.
VEGA: Do you have an outgoing message for Governor Rick Snyder?
WEAVER: Do I have an outgoing message for the governor? I guess goodbye.
VEGA: And what is your biggest hope for Gretchen Whitmer and the incoming Democrats?
WEAVER: You know what, I hope that things stay in place. They were voted to be the voice of the people. The people put them in place and we put them in place for a reason. We knew we needed to have a friend at the state level. We knew that Flint had been done wrong and we had not been made whole. And so, we have continued to talk about the needs of Flint and, really, the needs across the state. So, I am excited about the new administration. I’m looking forward to working with them, but I think what has happened to them is a tragedy and it just doesn’t make any sense.
VEGA: We have been speaking with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver about the city’s announcement this week that they are a year ahead of schedule in replacing lead pipes around the city. Mayor Weaver, thank you so much for speaking with me.
WEAVER: Okay, thank you.
VEGA: For WKAR, I’m Karel Vega.