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Statewide infrastructure repairs may need to wait for Flint

Mark Brush
Michigan Radio

A report from the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association and Public Sector Consultants released last month outlines the state's water infrastructure issues. 

MITA leadership gave testimony to the Flint Water Public Health Emergency Select Committee, a joint committee headed by State Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, this week. 

Statewide, drinking water infrastructure is underfunded by anywhere between $284 million and $583 million. Stormwater and wastewater groundwork is short $2.14 billion, conservatively, according to the reoprt.

These estimates are from the limited data researchers could find through the U.S. Census Bureau and Environmental Protection Agency records, the report notes. Many towns and cities in Michigan don't keep records of their piping or infrastructure. This means that not only is this report showing lower estimates, but towns trying to upgrade their piping don't know where to start.

"Unless it's actually being checked and analyzed, you aren't really able to tell what's going on underground and whether there's leaching or other areas that need to be repaired," said Lance Binoniemi, vice president of Government Affairs at MITA. 

In testimony Tuesday, Bioniemi recommended the Legislature create some type of asset management program, creating a reporting system for pipes moving forward. 

Committee members may agree infrastructure needs attention, but Flint is still the priority. 

"The Legislature, I don't feel, is going to have the time to do all of those long-term recommendations yet this term," said Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, who is vice chair of the committee. "We really should not distract ourselves from getting the immediate crisis solved first."

Rep. Jeff Irwin, D- nn Arbor, also on the committee, said he's more optimistic, hoping to tackle the long-term issues in the fall. But he agrees that Flint comes first.

"After we get those things in order," he said, "I think we need to move on to the longer-term question of how do we come up with the resources necessary to fix and maintain our water infrastructure."

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