The Flint water crisis has dragged on for over three years now, leaving residents to rely on bottled water for drinking and cooking while they await clean water. But one black woman and her business may finally end the injustice.
At the end of March, the state of Michigan agreed to pay up to $97 million in combined federal and state funds to replace Flint’s corroded water pipes. The state will have three years to replace any lead or galvanized steel pipes for at least 18,000 homes.
A federal judge approved the agreement, which also entitles residents to have their water tested for lead four times a year, as well as access to free bottled water and filters.
“For the first time, we’ve been able to have a federal court enforce the state to do the right thing,” Flint resident Melissa Mays told All Things Considered, “which is to replace the pipes that their agencies and their administration broke. And now the people can start to see progress.”
WT Stevens Construction, a black woman-owned company, will lead that progress. One of four companies contracted to replace the city’s contaminated pipes, WT Stevens is the only one owned by a black person.
W.T. Stevens founded the family-owned company in the 1990s, and when he died, Rhonda Grayer began running the company with her seven siblings. The company is a state-certified lead-abatement contractor, which started replacing the city’s water lines in 2016.
This will be the biggest project the company has ever undertaken.
“I will tell you that it is really exciting and the most important part of it is the opportunity to employ people who may not have had other opportunities,” Grayer told The Hub Flint.
But replacing the water pipes isn’t WT Stevens’ only contribution to the community of Flint. The company has added 20 employees to handle the project’s workload, including ex-offenders and youth in order to provide training and opportunities to these specific populations.
Flint residents comprise about 60 percent of Grayer’s team, so this project is definitely about more than a paycheck for them.
“They’ve had firsthand experiences with the water crisis,” Grayer told Mic. “This is the community in which they live and when they’re on the job they see that they’re helping residents they know.”
And Grayer thinks her dad would be “very, very proud” of the work that they’re doing.
The crisis in Flint began when city officials wanted to save money by switching the city’s water source from Detroit to the Flint River. The government then failed to treat the water with an anti-corrosive agent, so the water corroded the city’s lead pipes, essentially turning tap water into poison.
The government’s actions have been called an act of environmental racism against the city’s mostly black residents.
Last summer, scientists finally considered the water safe for bathing and hand-washing — but not for consumption.
And as of March, Flint residents were expected to start paying the full cost of their water, even though it is still unsafe to drink without a filter. More than 8,000 Flint residents now face foreclosure for outstanding bills on water that is still, after over three years, toxic.