BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — During an unannounced trip Tuesday morning, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer met with residents and community leaders in Benton Harbor as they deal with the ongoing water crisis.
Thousands of people are forced to use state-distributed bottled water after high levels of lead were discovered in the city’s water supply.
The governor is calling on Michigan’s Legislature to fully fund the cost to replace all lead service lines in the city — more than $11 million dollars — as part of an “all-hands-on deck” executive directive she signed last week. The state wants to replace 100 percent of lead service lines on an expedited timeline of 18 months.
“I cannot imagine the stress that moms and dads in Benton Harbor are under as they emerge from a pandemic, work hard to put food on the table, pay the bills, and face a threat to the health of their children. That’s why we will not rest until every parent feels confident to give their kid a glass of water knowing that it is safe,” Whitmer said in a statement.
Leaders in Benton Harbor held a press conference Tuesday, after the city commission issued a state of emergency to free up resources.
“I am grateful that Governor Whitmer visited Benton Harbor today, and for our continued partnership with the state of Michigan as we work to protect access to safe drinking water, upgrade our community’s water infrastructure, and keep Benton Harbor families safe,” Mayor Marcus Muhammad said.
In recent weeks, state and city leaders have been criticized by local activists for not acting quickly enough.
Now Michigan’s Republican-led Senate Oversight Committee is taking the first steps to launch an investigation into the state’s handling of the ongoing water crisis.
Oversight Chair Sen. Ed McBroom (R–Vulcan) requested emails, documents and correspondence between members of the State Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy, the Whitmer Administration and Benton Harbor city and community leaders.
“The documents requested herein will help us learn and understand how the department established, implemented, and executed policies and initiatives to address the water crisis in Benton Harbor over the past three years,” says McBroom in the letter obtained by FOX 17.
EGLE tells FOX 17 they will hand over the documents by the Oct. 28 deadline, saying in a statement, “EGLE has received the Oversight Committee’s letter and intends to provide them with the requested information. EGLE looks forward to showing our work regarding the activities that the Committee is requesting, including how Benton Harbor officials and residents were informed of drinking water lead exceedances.
"EGLE will also illustrate the consistent and ongoing technical support the state continues to extend the city and its public water supply to establish effective corrosion control, reduce lead levels in drinking water, and invest in improving their water system’s infrastructure.”
The state health department will be handing out bottled water to Benton Harbor residents at the date and times listed below:
Wednesday, Oct. 20 · Southwest Community Action Agency, 331 Miller St., 1-3 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 21 · Southwest Community Action Agency, 331 Miller St., 4-6 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 22 · God’s Household of Faith, 275 Pipestone Road, 2-6 p.m. · Southwest Community Action Agency (Self-service pick-up), 331 Miller St., 10-2 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 23 · Boys & Girls Club of Benton Harbor, 600 Nate Wells Sr. Drive, 10 a.m.-noon. · Harbor of Hope Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 769 Pipestone, 4-6 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 24 · Abundant Life Church of God, 693 Columbus Ave., 3-5 p.m. · Brotherhood of All Nations, 516 Emery Ave., 4-6 p.m.