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Local Black- and Woman-Owned Firm Will Help Replace Flint’s Water Pipes

leonkaye headshotWords by Leon Kaye
Energy & Environment

To say justice has not been served when it comes to the Flint water crisis is an understatement. The scandal, now entering its fourth year, ensnared thousands of families. Many at risk from the tainted water in Flint, Michigan, coped with even more insult when they were judged as ineligible for many public benefits. Other citizens who refused to pay for water that they cannot or are afraid to use have been threatened with the loss of their homes; that controversy landed Flint’s city hall into more upheaval as its leadership seeks to move on from the disaster.

But at least one local company and its employees can see light at the end of the tunnel in Flint. Several blogs have reported that a local construction firm is among four contractors that will be tasked with replacing 18,000 corroded pipelines across the city of 99,000 people.

Those pipes were found to be the source of the lead contamination fiasco after the city switched its water source the city of Detroit's treated water system to the Flint River while a new pipeline was under construction. Local water officials reportedly neglected to add corrosion inhibitors to the water, which resulted in the huge public health danger. Blame was cast all over, including Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration, local officials and the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as an overall toxic political culture across Michigan.

In a city that is 57 percent black, tapping the firm W.T. Stevens -- a local business owned by a family of color -- for the retrofit can, at a minimum, offer a tiny dose of hope to a city in the middle of a political tug-of-war, which has so far offered little healing. The company was named after a contractor who ran his business in Flint for 30 years. Shortly after he passed away, his daughter, Rhonda Grayer, along with her seven siblings, founded the company to continue his legacy.

W.T. Stevens will be part of a court order that required the state of Michigan to fund much of the $87 million estimated as necessary to inspect water service lines for thousands of households, and replace any galvanized steel or lead pipes if required. As part of the legal settlement, Michigan’s government reserved an additional $10 million in case the project needs it. All pipelines covered by the court settlement must be completed by 2020, the Associated Press reported.

According to several press accounts, W.T. Stevens will have a social enterprise mission along with the nuts-and-bolts task of ripping out and replacing water pipes for city residents, many of whom still rely on bottled water for everyday tasks.

In a city with a stubbornly high 9 percent unemployment rate, the family-run company has hired youth and ex-offenders among its dozen new employees. Such hires are in line with the Stevens’ reputation across Flint, where the company’s namesake was known as a mentor keen on providing opportunities to those who needed them.

Flint’s ordeal was largely the result of outside forces who never had its citizens’ best interests at heart, but at least some local residents will have a role in helping the city rebuild.

Image credit: George Thomas/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye, Executive Editor, has written for Triple Pundit since 2010. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media, and the Editor in Chief of CR Magazine. His previous work can be found at The GuardianSustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas.

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