In March of 2017, Michigan and the city of Flint agreed to replace thousands of home lead-tainted water lines under a deal to settle a lawsuit over lead-contaminated water in the troubled city. Flint will replace at least 18,000 lead or galvanized-steel water lines by 2020, and the state will cover the costs with state and federal money.
W.T. Stevens Construction, a Black-owned construction firm, has been awarded a multi-million dollar service contract to replace more than 18,000 lead contaminated pipes across the city of Flint, according to BlackBusiness.org.The construction firm, made-up of 25 employees, is one of just four companies recently contracted under a court order to complete the project.
Historically, the water in the Flint River downstream of Flint has been of poor quality, and was severely degraded during the 1970s, due to “the presence of fecal coliform bacteria, low dissolved oxygen, plant nutrients, oils, and toxic substances.” In 2001, the state ordered the monitoring and cleanup of 134 polluted sites within the Flint River watershed, including industrial complexes, landfills and farms laden with pesticides and fertilizer.
Starting in 2014, the Flint water crisis started when over 100,000 residents were potentially exposed to high levels of lead in the drinking water, causing a federal state of emergency in 2016. Flint residents were instructed to use only bottled or filtered water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and bathing. While water quality has returned to acceptable levels this year, residents are told to continue to use bottled or filtered water until all the lead pipes have been replaced.
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W.T. Stevens was founded by the late Black entrepreneur, W.T. Stevens back in the 1990’s. His daughter, Rhonda Grayer, now serves as vice president of the company and works along with her husband Jeff Grayer, who serves as a project manager. Both are natives of Flint, Michigan, and Jeff is also a former NBA player who played for the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks for more than 10 years. So, their history with Michigan is richly cemented.
“This is home for me and my family and I wasn’t going to sit back and do nothing as a person or as a businessman,” Mr. Grayer said in an interview with TNJ.com. “This is the biggest project our company has ever done and as a result of the water line contract our gross revenues have increased by about 70 percent,” he continued. His expectation is to have 6,000 water lines replaced in the city by the end of this year. “The target is to have all 18,000 lead corroded residential pipes replaced by December 2019,” he said.
“It is really exciting, and the most important part of it is the opportunity to employ people who may not have had other opportunities,” said Mrs. Grayer in a separate interview with TheHubFlint.com. The Grayers’ passion to help rebuild the community is palpable. “This is a major project that will ensure public safety and start rebuilding trust between the city and the community… something that has been missing awhile,” noted Mr. Grayer.