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BUSINESS EXCHANGE: How to Fix Flint

What will it take to fix the water crisis in Flint, Michigan? As a federal judge approved a deal on fixing 18,000 Flint water lines, civil rights groups and politicians are celebrating that Flint’s pipes are to be replaced, household water quality monitored under settlement agreement.

The Flint case illustrates racial inequities in America and should prompt questions in blacks’ minds.

Flint will be responsible for replacing lead and galvanized-steel lines that bring water into homes. The cost could be as high as $97 million, with federal and state governments covering the bill. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded a $100 million grant to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to fund drinking water infrastructure upgrades in Flint. The funding, provided by the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016, or WIIN, enables Flint to accelerate and expand its work to replace lead service lines and make other critical infrastructure improvements.

Back in the day, mayors like Barry, Maynard Jackson and Coleman Young would be demanding that at least 40 percent of the work and contracts involved with fixing Flint’s water go to the state and city’s blacks. High lead levels in Flint’s water led President Obama to declare a state of emergency.

“The people weren’t put first, the health of the people was not put before profit and money,” Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said.

In Marion Barry’s book, race played a factor in everything that occurs in America. Surely race should play a role in the fixing, repair and mending of the water system. In a newspaper column, Michael Martinez wrote, “Was the city neglected because it is mostly black and about 40 percent poor?”

The court-ordered replacement is unprecedented in the United States, says lead attorney Dimple Chaudhary of the Natural Resources Defense Council. The environmental group, joined by the ACLU of Michigan, sued Flint and Michigan on behalf of residents. Flint’s water was tainted with lead for at least 18 months. While under the control of state-appointed financial managers, the city tapped the Flint River as its water source while a new pipeline was being built to Lake Huron.

Under the new agreement, pipes serving 18,000 homes will be replaced by January 2020. U.S. District Judge David Lawson in Detroit, who approved the settlement, called it “fair, adequate, reasonable, consistent with the public interest.”

There will be tests for lead in the Flint system every six months until one year after the replacement of water lines. An independent monitor also will check household water samples for lead. The state will pay $895,000 in legal fees and expenses to lawyers representing residents.

Youth academies could help Flint assemble and educate local residents to rebuild the water supply. African-American Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit) has proposed creating a multibillion-dollar fund to pay for repairing water infrastructure around the country. The challenge is to replace the corroded pipes or perhaps the whole water system in this city of 100,000 as quickly as it can be done. The cost may reach $1 billion or more, but that cannot stand in the way of moving forward to make the city fit for habitation.

A safe water supply has always been critical to civilization. In modern society, when we turn on a faucet, we expect safe drinking water to flow out. That is no longer the case in Flint, where the water crisis has turned back the clock to a time when people traveled to central water sources to fill their buckets and carry the water home.

In a perfect world, it would be a color-blind society, but that is simply not reality. To claim otherwise willfully disregards the fact that race has always mattered in American society. But this generation of Black Americans can’t get with any concept, plan or theory that puts blacks and our interests first and foremost.

Political allegiances have spawn black critics of race-conscious remedies charging that it promotes racial polarization, reinforces stereotypes and confers special status on minorities. Nevertheless, the government needs to pay attention to the needs of previously ignored communities.

William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via Busxchng@his.com.

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William Reed

William Reed is President and Chief Executive Officer of Black Press International. He has been a Media Entrepreneur for over two decades. A well-trained marketing and communications professional, Reed has a national reputation for his expert writing, speaking, organizational, research, management and motivation abilities, along with strong managerial, presentation and sales skills.

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