By Shea Howell
April 9, 2016
Governor Snyder’s mantra is relentless positive action. In the Flint water crisis, it turns out he is relentlessly positive, but providing little action. This is because he treats the crisis as a public relations problem, not a real disaster effecting real people, now, and for generations to come.
The most recent relentless positive public relations push is the effort to claim that the Flint water project, brought to life under his administration with the aid of state laws, was a good business decision.
Snyder has been pushing this line. At various times he has claimed the Karegnondi Water Authority was a sound business decision, supported by elected officials, and would have provided cheaper, more reliable water to Flint. He has argued that the problems of Flint were the result of a few bad decisions, not a systemic failure.
He likes to say there is plenty of blame to go around, especially on environmental regulators. He is hoping that no one will follow up on his ownTask Force report to do “deep and detailed investigation” into “State approval and permitting of the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) in a region that had ample water supply and treatment capacity, yet faced economic distress sufficient to warrant emergency management in its two largest urban centers.”
It is important to keep this charge for a detailed investigation in mind as we see the latest appearance of the good business argument. Jeff Wright, the Genesee County Drain Commissioner and persistent proponent of the KWA,wrote a forceful defense of the decision under the title “Water project makes good economic sense.” This letter was prompted by a Times Herald editorial criticizing the decision to set up an independent water system. Claiming he wants to “address some inaccuracies in both the editorial and the Flint Water Advisory Task Force report that is referenced,” Wright launches into a defense that is both false and racist.
Here are some of his distortions. He writes: “KWA was created out of a need for a more reliable water delivery system … This stemmed, in part, from our area being cut off from water for several days, with hospitals, schools, and households placed in a very grave and dangerous situation.”
Facts do not bear this out. In the half century since Flint has depended on Detroit Water, only once were they “cut off.” That was during the 2003 blackout that brought nearly half the country to a halt.
Second, Wright claims the project was “determined to be the most fiscally responsible route for our community.”
This is also untrue. According to a report prepared by an independent engineering firm Tucker, Young, Jackson Tull in 2013, earlier estimates for the Karegnondi scheme were low-balled, and would likely result in significantly higher rates for people, possibly as much as 30%.
Finally, Wright claims Flint was charged unfairly because of Detroit’s “years of corrupt government and monopolistic practices.” In reality, until the day before the filing of bankruptcy by Kevyn Orr and company, Detroit’s water system was under federal control. Federal Judges appointed the board that oversaw the system and rates were controlled.
This image of Detroit’s incompetence and corruption is rooted in the deepest racist thinking of the region, designed to deflect attention from the role of Snyder, his Emergency Managers, and the power grabs of some local officials.
Efforts by Wright and Snyder are designed to muddy the truth. The decision to set up an independent water system without sufficient controls and protections rests squarely with Snyder and his Emergency Managers. The philosophy of Snyder and other right wing republican advocates that bottom line thinking is the best way to provide for the public good has proven deadly. Snyder cannot hide from these truths.