“This isn’t supposed to be happening to us in America,” cries a Flint resident in the newly-released documentary Flint: The Poisoning of an American City.
But it did. And it will happen again if we don’t learn from the mistakes that resulted in a city of over 100,000 people drinking water that was up to three times as dangerous as drinking hazardous waste. That is why this documentary is a must-see for everyone in the country. It personalizes the headlines. And it poses questions all of us should be asking, to include who provides oversight to the utility tasked with treating our water.
Wednesday evening, I attended a Laketown Township Planning Commission public hearing because our water treatment facility, the Holland Board of Public Works (BPW), needed a special permit to install 45’ fiberglass poles in our neighborhood. Ours, and other neighborhoods, have covenants that provide easement for underground utilities, not poles. It was BPW’s intent to not only ignore those covenants, but to install the poles alongside private roads.
What I learned at the meeting is that the decision to install this technology was made without any input from our township, a township now requiring all new neighborhoods to invest in underground utilities. This decision, and others—to include what types of investments are being made to keep our water safe, clean and accessible—are being made without input from the people we elect to represent us.
It sounds an awful lot like Flint.
We place our water in the hands of our elected officials—to hold that water in trust. At a time when we are seeing increasing contaminants in our source water, Lake Michigan, we need our elected officials involved in the complex but critical investment decisions about our water. And while I appreciate that, according to BPW’s representative, the focus is on keeping our water costs low (half that of Grand Rapids, we were told), that again, sounds like Flint.
On the BPW website, General Manager Dave Koster states the company is “always looking for new ways to collaborate with our customers.” I suggest proactively involving the local governments representing the people in BPW’s service area in all major investment decisions. No one wants to repeat the mistakes that created the water crisis in Flint.
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