Skubick: Some lawmakers calling for explanation for late response to Benton Harbor water crisis


LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – The Whitmer administration contends it has been active for three years on the Benton Harbor lead in the water problem, but some key Republicans are wondering why it took so long before every resident was advised to drink bottled water.

Before Governor Gretchen Whitmer came into office in January of 2019,  the outgoing Rick Snyder administration warned the residents of Benton Harbor that there was a lead in the water problem.

And when she became Governor, the state environmental department in March of 2019  treated the water with chemicals to get rid of the lead, and water filters were recommended, but that did not solve the problem.

In February of 2020, a revised chemical treatment program was started which is “showing some improvement.”

When the city recently failed for the sixth time to get the lead out, the Governor ordered bottled water for everyone and set a target of 18 months to remove all the lead pipes.

“To Respond to that health risk, Gov. Whitmer signed an executive directive last week to ensure a full Government approach to access to safe drinking water right now and we’ll work to replace very lead pipe in Benton Harbor as soon as possible,” said State Environment Director Liesl Clark.

But the GOP oversight committee chair kept asking: why did it take three years for the governor to get to that point?

“This started three years ago. We’ve had six reports in a row about lead levels that are high and yet it seems like this just ramped up in the last 30 days,” said State Rep. Steve Johnson (R-Oversight Chair).

The Benton Harbor mayor reports in 2019, he asked the Whitmer administration for more money after the state gave the city $300,000 and the Republicans claim her response has been tardy.

But this community leader defends the governor and says the debate should not be about the past.

“I believe the governor is doing the best she can,” said Benton Harbor resident Bishop Adam Berry. “We need the leaders to stand up and say we don’t have time to talk about how we got here, we need to know where we’re going.”

Some Republicans do want to look at the past so that this does not happen again, they contend. When asked what the state might have done differently given hindsight, the director offered this:

“I don’t have a full understanding right now to answer that question. That is something our team is thinking through.”

The state allocated $10 million recently to remove the pipes and lawmakers are debating another $11 million on top of that.  

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