FLINT, MI — Talk about thinking outside the box.
In a city widely known for its water problems, 1st Ward Councilman Eric Mays wants to shift the narrative by spending a portion of the city’s $94.7 in COVID-19 relief funds to build a water purification and bottling plant, potentially sending Flint water around the world.
Mays, who has mentioned the potential for the project several times during talks about the city’s budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, said he plans to propose setting aside $10-14 million in relief funds for the project, many of the details of which have yet to be ironed out.
“I believe with bottled water, there’s a market statewide, nationwide, and possibly internationally …,” he said Friday, May 28. “I don’t think (the water crisis) will be held against the city of Flint … It’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
The proposal would need council approval, would require an assurance that the federal funds could be spent on such a project, and could be vetoed by Mayor Sheldon Neeley.
If it survives those challenges, it could also require negotiation with the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), which supplies the city with its water under a 30-year contract and which agreed to take over Flint’s bond payments for debt tied to building the Karengondi Water Authority (KWA) pipeline in return for GLWA getting access to the city’s share of raw Lake Huron water.
Flint isn’t currently connected to the KWA’s raw water supply but is building a pipeline that will connect it to KWA water that’s been treated by Genesee County. That water connection line, which is approximately 85 percent complete, is expected to be used as a backup supply to the city and is expected to be blended with GLWA water supplied by the city to homes and businesses.
Both the KWA and GLWA get their water from Lake Huron.
Mays said he wants to tap into either raw or treated water from the KWA, depending on which is most feasible.
The council is scheduled to resume Finance Committee meetings on the budget on Wednesday, June 2, and is expected to consider a number of resolutions to amend Mayor Sheldon Neeley’s proposed budget.
A resolution to set aside money for the bottled water plant could be among them. The council must adopt the budget no later than June 7.
Council President Kate Fields said she doesn’t support the set-aside proposed by Mays, and said she doesn’t believe the federal relief funds he wants to use can be committed because they were not included in the budget presented by the mayor.
Fields voted to approve Neeley’s budget as presented, but Mays and others on council rejected that plan in a 5-4 vote earlier this month.
Mays said if the bottled water plant isn’t included in the coming fiscal year’s budget it could in the following fiscal year when the remaining 50 percent of funds from the American Rescue Plan is due to arrive. The city recently received the first half of its allocation.
The U.S. Department…