Two Million Gallons of Raw Sewage ‘Spill’ Into Already Contaminated Flint River
What Did The People of Flint Ever Do To Deserve This? ‘Emergency’ (Mis)management Might Hold the Answer
Now comes word that the City of Flint, Michigan, already suffering under a five-year-long plague of the lead-contaminated Flint River water, has managed to somehow spill more than two million gallons of raw sewage into that self-same, diseased and filthy waterway.
The city dumped an estimated 2 million gallons of untreated sewage into the Flint River Sunday, Aug. 18, just months after officials warned wastewater infrastructure was fast approaching a “critical point.”
A partial report filed by the city with the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy on Tuesday, Aug. 20, says a “flash flood event” overflowed primary settling tanks at the city’s wastewater treatment plant on Beecher Road, sending raw waste onto the ground and into a storm sewer drain that discharges directly to the river.The city publicly announced the spill on Aug. 18, but thus far has yet to reveal what protocols were in place prior to the spill or how it will prevent a similar occurrence in the future. Of additional note, the city also failed to disclose the volume of the spill until filing a partial report with the Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy.
And now, as a result of this “overflow,” and the now astronomically high levels of bacteria in the water, Flint residents have been warned to not just refrain from using this water, but to “stay away from the river” altogether, a feat which may be difficult to accomplish since the “river runs through it” — right through the middle of town, that is.
Even as this latest catastrophe strikes Flint, it should be noted that the city is still in negotiations for a revolving loan of $34 million to help solve the original, now five-year-old leaded-river-water issue. Indeed, over the last five years, the city was warned of the possibility of just such a spill as this. Several months ago, you see, Rob Bincsik, Director of the Department of Public Works, cautioned that, “We won’t have to talk about drinking water anymore, because we’ll talk about nothing but the raw sewage that gets discharged into the Flint River.” That point of no return appears to have been reached. So sayeth Bincsik: “We’re going to get to a point where we can’t treat our wastewater and sewage anymore.”
Even still, this “Director of Public Works” does not blame the city — his employer — for this latest water-borne debacle. It was, as we used to say in the Navy when fighting rough seas, “an act of God;” or in the case of Flint and Mr. Bincsik, this whole dirty and poisonous water thing is all Mother Nature’s fault:
The condition of infrastructure and needed capital investment at the wastewater treatment plant had nothing to do with the recent discharge into the Flint River, Bincsik said.
The duration and intensity of the rain event caused an immediate and significant increase in flow,” he continued, “ subsequently causing the primary tanks to overflow untreated sewage into the storm sewer and ultimately the river. Wastewater treatment plant staff did everything possible to minimize the discharge event but they are really at the mercy of Mother Nature in situations such as this. (Emphasis added).
Flint’s Original Water Crisis — A Recap & Update
The original Flint water crisis began a full five years ago in 2014. At that time, Flint’s sole source of drinking water was surreptitiously switched from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (sourced from Lake Huron and the Detroit River) to the less expensive Flint River. Since 1908, the Flint River had been used as an industrial toilet, dumping ground and open sewer by General Motors Corporation. Flint, Michigan (not Detroit) is the original home of GMC.
Neither before, during nor after the switch, did water and infrastructure officials install the proper corrosion inhibitors to the water itself, which resulted in lead contamination. Damaging — and damning — public health effects soon followed. The improperly or non-treated aged pipes leaked and leached lead directly into the water supply, which, in turn, produced extremely high levels of a heavy metal neurotoxin.
To date, between 6,000 and 12,000 children in Flint have been exposed to drinking water with high levels of untreatable, irreversible, brain- and nervous system-damage, and many more are experiencing a whole array of wide ranging and serious health effects, in addition to elevated blood-levels of lead.
The contaminated water is also suspected as the cause of an outbreak of Legionnaires disease that has killed twelve people and affected another eighty-seven throughout the county.
On January 5, 2016, the then Governor Rick Snyder declared Flint to be in a state of emergency. The then President Obama soon followed suit with his own state of emergency which authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to provide immediate aid to Flint.
A whole bevy of both state and federal actors have either been fired or quit over this situation. There have also been fifteen criminal cases filed against local and state officials as well.
After several feints and denial, misdirections and obfuscations, the governor finally apologized to the citizens of Flint, and sent the city $28 million for supplies, medical care, and infrastructure upgrades. He later included within the new state budget an additional $30 million for water bill credits up to sixty-five percent for citizens and twenty percent for businesses. And, another, final, $165 million was approved for lead pipe replacements and more water bill reimbursements.
As for the Feds, a $170 million “stopgap” spending measure for repairs and upgrades to Flint’s water system and help with medical expenses was approved by the US House of Representatives on December 8, 2016. The Senate approved it the next day.
On January 24, 2017 the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality assured Flint Mayor Karen Weaver that the lead in Flint’s water was now within acceptable (federal) limits.
But despite these official and scientific assurances, as of January, 2019, many, if not most, residents of Flint continue to use bottled war rather than trust the government or the river.
At this writing, all Flint’s lead pipes are being replaced, a process which is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.
Emergency (Mis)Managers — or 21st Century Overseers?
In 2002, the GOP-dominated Michigan state legislature passed and the Republican Governor Rick Snyder signed its first “financial emergency manager” law. By 2012, the actual voters of Michigan had had enough and rejected this usurpation of local power by an overwhelming state-wide referendum.
No matter. Just six weeks later, those same Republican lawmakers met in special session and over-ruled and over-turned the supposedly binding citizens’ referendum outlawing the “financial emergency manager” law and reinstated the new styled “emergency manager” law.
Therefore, at the very moment Flint’s water crisis hit the headlines, the city was under the absolute and dictatorial control of a state-appointed emergency manager. It was the unelected, unaccountable EM who unilaterally made the decision to begin drawing water from the Flint River as a cost-saving measure.
Although Flint stands out as the exemplar of the failure of the EM system, decisions made by EMs in other Michigan cities have also been harshly critiqued. For example, Pontiac’s EM’s sale of the Silverdome, the former home of the Detroit Lions, for a pittance — $583,000 — in 2009 just jumps right out. In 2014, those same investors listed the Silverdome for sale at $30 million.
“In hindsight, it seems way too cheap right now,” Wayne Workman, Michigan’s deputy treasurer for local government services, said of the 2009 sale. But “the city was bleeding. … It was time to get some liquidity,” and the facility had an annual maintenance cost of $1.5 million. “It was not going to make any money for the city for a long, long time.”
What Does An Emergency Manager Actually Do?
Emergency managers are appointed by the governor and have broad power to intervene in financially struggling municipalities and school districts. However, they do not simply consult or work with established (elected) city managers. Rather, EMs over-rule any and all city governments’ decisions and authority which run counter to their own personal, political, social, economic, and yes, cultural ideologies, beliefs, opinions and values. For all practical purposes, EMs actually, literally, replace local elected governments and institute their own policies, procedures and protocols without any input whatsoever from elected officials.
Dr. Eric Scorsone of Michigan State University has worked closely with the state in implementing the EM law.
“I think what [the Flint situation] points out is the implementation of this [law] has to be carefully balanced,” Scorsone said. “There could be a tendency to go with cost savings plans that are not always thought out as well as they should be.
“It’s easy to Monday morning quarterback,” but “this needs to be a lesson for government leaders in general. I don’t think it’s an indictment of the law, per se.”
Also, as seen in the video above, the good Dr. Scorsone admits that there just might be a teeny, tiny hint of racism involved in the imposition of these “emergency” managers upon unsuspecting citizens. But, if so, such racism is inconsequential and certainly “unintentional.”
With full disclosure of my “Monday morning quarterbacking” status, I must point out that this “Emergency Manager” law seems to only apply to Michigan cities where there is a majority or close to a majority of black citizens. Detroit, Pontiac, Flint, Benton Harbor, Inkster, et al. Although there are any number of white-dominated cities and towns in financial distress, Dr. Scorsone argues that it is merely, purely, happenstance, coincidental and accidental that only “black” cities and towns warrant the emergency manager treatment.
The publicly unstated but widely held belief by “conservatives,” which this situation illustrates, is this: Black people cannot govern themselves. If left to their own devices, they will devolve into their natural state of incivility, if not complete and total barbarism. Only the guiding hand of the “Great White Father” or “savior” can salvage these savages and bring them out and up — into the bright sunshine of white Western Civilization.
Rev. Ben Chavis is a former head of the NAACP. Years ago he coined a phrase which described a budding situation that, if Flint, Michigan is any indicator, apparently, has now come into its own: “environmental racism.”
Indeed, this latest Flint fiasco just about says it all. Who allows millions of gallons of untreated, raw sewage to “spill over” into a town’s sole source of drinking water? Is this a harbinger of things to come? Similar water-poisoning “events” have sprung up throughout the US within the last five years — all mainly in cities with large black and brown populations.