A new report from The Daily Caller claims that the city of Flint, Michigan, which has suffered from a headline-commanding water crisis for half a decade, may have steered tens of millions in aid money meant to help replace lead water pipes to a contractor that had no experience, but who did have a close relationship with Flint city officials.
The controversy may go straight to the top: to the Flint mayor's office.
The Caller reports that $22 million in "water crisis aid" was directed to a company with ties to city officials, even though that company didn't have experience replacing leaded water pipes — what the aid money was meant to help do.
Administrators in charge of the project also ignored cost-saving models that would have allowed water replacement companies to test for older pipes before digging up huge swaths of land, opting instead to follow a plan that had contractors digging up yard after yard to replace water pipes, even if they found copper or new piping underground.
"The city prohibited contractors from using an efficient method of digging holes known as hydrovac excavation," a Flint councilwoman told the Caller. "That leveled the playing field for a contractor, WT Stevens, with no experience or the appropriate equipment — and let it bill far more to taxpayers, she says. All of these factors, [the councilwoman] adds, needlessly led to more waiting for anyone who actually has lead pipes."
They "chose to dig up yards that they knew were copper, and they decided to hand dig instead of hydrovac,” the councilwoman said. "That was because WT Stevens didn’t have the ability, and you get more money [digging by hand]. It costs $250 [to hydrovac] versus thousands to dig a large hole without the equipment."
Flint's mayor, Karen Weaver, and one key Flint city councilman, Eric Mays, both appear to have cozy relationships with WT Stevens, and supported the contractor even when the work looked shoddy. The pair were also behind the decision to dig up every yard looking for lead pipes, even though a University of Michigan study was able to predict where the problematic lead pipes were with stunning 94% accuracy.
The "predictive model" could be extrapolated, Flint clean water activists said, but WT Stevens dug up areas where there were no predicted lead pipes in "exploratory" projects.
This latest revelation is one of just a handful of discoveries that have called aspects of the nearly billion-dollar Flint clean water rescue program into question. Flint's water systems had a lead problem that came to light when state administrators made the decision to shift Flint from the costly Detroit water system to a cheaper local system in an effort to save the city from descending into bankruptcy. Once the shifts began to occur, authorities discovered that Flint's infrastructure had been completely neglected for decades, leaving Flint citizens exposed to dangerous levels of lead in their drinking water.
Since then, state and federal officials estimate that more than half a billion dollars has been allocated to alleviate Flint's water issues, but that a great deal of that money has been mismanaged. Besides the $22 million in pipe replacement contracts and a similarly mismanaged wastewater contract, a whistleblower lawsuit is currently making its way through federal court, alleging that Flint's mayor, Karen Weaver, diverted money meant to help Flint's citizens to her campaign coffers.
Flint's water has been safe to drink since early 2017, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and the amount of lead in the water has continued to fall to where it is now well below levels considered "safe" by the federal government and the National Resources Defense Council.