Whitmer looking at many options in Flint

Flint River | Michael Barera, Wikimedia Commons

Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer’s team today said she will work with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver’s office to continue ensuring that Flint residents have access to safe drinking water.

“We’re working with the mayor of Flint,” the Democrat said when asked by a reporter during a media call this morning whether she’ll be involved in offering bottled water to Flint residents. “Bottled water service is going to be provided through April, at the very least, and I want to make sure that the people of Flint have access to clean water before they are cut off of bottled water service. And so that is going to continue on at least through April at this juncture and obviously we’re going to be hard at work making sure that they got clean water coming out of their tap.”

Gretchen Whitmer

Whitmer told the Michigan Advance in an interview last week that bottled water needs to be supplied to Flint residents until all of the city’s remaining lead service lines are replaced.

She said she’s going to work with Weaver, U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) and other local Flint leaders to make sure her team has a solid new point-person aiding with ongoing recovery.

“But it’s gotta be someone that the mayor has confidence in and that we’re gonna share information and make sure that we have bottled water until the pipes are all finished being replaced,” she told the Advance last week.

Whitmer today said she wants to ensure Flint residents have clean drinking water before Nestle stops offering bottled water for free, but stopped short of saying whether she wants the state to reopen water distribution centers if Nestle stops offering it free of charge.

This afternoon, a spokeswoman for Whitmer said the she only meant to say that Nestle will continue offering bottled water through April.

“The Governor-elect was merely stating that Nestle will continue to provide bottled water through April, as they have been,” said Clare Liening, a spokeswoman for Whitmer’s transition team.

Gretchen Whitmer in helping with a bottled water distribution in Flint, April 28, 2018 | Twitter

Nestle Waters North America has been offering free bottled water to Flint residents since the Gov. Rick Snyder administration stopped providing it in April 2018. The cancellation of state-run facilities came after two years of tests that showed drinking water lead levels fell below state and federal action limits. Snyder’s office has said the city tap water is currently safe to drink, although many residents remain wary, given previous governmental assurances on water safety.

From May 2018 through the end of the year, Nestle has offered about 3.2 million bottles of water for Flint and more than 1,100 gallons of fresh water from a “hydration station,” according to the company.

Donating water in times of need is something we have done and will continue to do in the state of Michigan. Throughout the year, we have worked closely with Mayor Weaver and the entire Flint community to understand how we can best help meet their needs. We remain committed to helping the people of Flint and are proud to extend our support to the Flint community through April of 2019,” said Nestle spokesman Jason Steward in a statement.

Offering bottled water could be just one option the Democratic governor-elect is considering to make sure people in Flint continue to have access to safe drinking water.

“The bottom line is folks need to have clean water,” Michelle Grinnell, another spokeswoman for Whitmer’s transition team, said later this afternoon. “Whether that’s bottled water, whether that’s another solution — that’s all conversations she’s having right now.”

Sheldon Neeley

“We’re still in the transition. She’s not governor yet. We are looking at everything. Some of these things are decisions that just naturally will have to be made after she takes those oaths in office,” Grinnell continued.

State Rep. Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint) said ensuring bottled water is continues to be offered would be a great way to help earn back trust in a city where people have understandably lost faith in local and state government officials who told them that their tap water was safe to drink when it wasn’t.

“The problem here is a crisis in confidence that’s ongoing and no one believes that the water is safe to drink,” Neeley said. “So you have a large part of the community that’s refusing to go without bottled water.”

“I think she’s [Whitmer] off to a good start if she’s gonna be providing water to the community again,” he continued.

Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein covers the governor’s office, criminal justice and the environment. Before that, he wrote about state government and politics for the Detroit News, the Associated Press and MIRS News and won a Society of Professional Journalism award for open government reporting. He studied philosophy at Michigan State University, where he wrote for both The State News and Capital News Service. He began his journalism career freelancing for The Sturgis Journal, his hometown paper.

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