The Flint City Council has narrowly approved a 30-year agreement to get drinking water from a regional agency, bringing to end one battle among many in the Michigan city still recovering from a lead-tainted water crisis.
The deal was approved Tuesday night by a 5-4 vote after hours of debate and comments from dozens of residents, following months of court-ordered negotiations. The pact means the Great Lakes Water Authority will continue to serve Flint. It has been providing water for Flint in short-term deals since fall 2015, when Gov. Rick Snyder acknowledged the crisis related to use of inadequately treated water from the Flint River.
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"We have been waiting for a decision for months," said Mayor Karen Weaver, who pushed for the deal and recently survived a recall election. "You can't please everybody, but we know we made the best decision for public safety and being fiscally responsible."
The city stopped using Detroit's water system and instead tapped the Flint River during an 18-month period in 2014 and 2015, as a way to save money while the city's finances were under state control. But the river water wasn't properly treated, which caused lead from pipes in older homes and buildings to leach into drinking water.
Some children were found to have elevated lead levels in their blood, which can cause developmental delays and other health problems. Some experts have also linked the tainted water to the deaths of 12 people who died after contracting Legionnaires' disease, a type of pneumonia.
The crisis has led to 15 current or former governmental officials being charged with crimes, and lawsuits have been filed by numerous residents.
Even with progress replacing pipes and decreasing lead levels, a judge admonished the City Council for failing to come up with a long-term water source and warned that bankruptcy could result. The state of Michigan sued Flint earlier this year, seeking to force the city to sign a 30-year deal with the Great Lakes Water Authority.
Under the deal, a Flint representative will be appointed to the authority's governing board, and the city will be relieved of debts owed to the Karegnondi Water Authority, an upstart system that was intended to be Flint's primary water source after breaking away from the Detroit system. Additionally, the contract provides for $750,000 to be granted to the city for water bill relief and $100 million pledged for infrastructure improvements to be released immediately.
The "sweeteners," as one councilman called them, weren't enough to assuage all in attendance.
"It does not benefit the residents," said Arthur Woodson, a Flint resident who led the failed Weaver recall effort earlier this month that produced five new council members. "We are in crisis and we've never been made whole."