Flint? Youngstown?


The human tragedy that is unfolding in Flint, Mich., is as tragic as it is unconscionable.

The reality of it to us in Youngstown is, if you replace “water supply” with “injection wells,” you essentially have Youngstown 2011.

Remember the earthquakes in the Youngstown area caused by injection wells?

State officials in the Gov. John Kasich administration repeatedly dismissed the allegations raised in months of reporting by The Vindicator. We were tipped off by a knowledgeable Girard resident, Mike Costarella. Based on his data and analysis, we generated many stories that targeted the quake locations and speculated that they were not a coincidence.

Earthquakes continued. So, too, did state denials. When the biggest of all earthquakes hit Dec. 31, the state knew the jig was up.

They came clean, and Kasich immediately banned injection wells at that time. Use was eventually reinstated with new parameters in place.

And in Michigan, officials are coming clean about its water fiasco. The lineup of government leaders who did nothing is a disgrace, as outlined in this news report:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head for Michigan, Susan Hedman, resigned Thursday just a day after President Barack Obama got involved.

Hedman told the Detroit News last week that her office knew in April 2015 that Flint’s decision to switch to the Flint River for its water supply “could increase pipe corrosion and spiked lead levels.” She did not take any public action, instead choosing to try to pressure Michigan officials to address the situation internally.

Dan Wyant, director of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, already resigned in December for his role in the crisis.

Emails released by Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday showed that his staff and the environmental agency spent months last year pointing fingers at local and federal offices for the lead problem as they downplayed concerns. He is expected to testify before Congress, which is soon to get involved.

So deep was the Michigan deceit and deflection, that even as late as September, when a Flint pediatrician became the first medical professional to assemble statistical proof of lead poisoning in children, she, too, was dismissed by state officials.

Again – don’t dismiss this all as “Well, that’s just a fluke in Michigan.”

It happened in our community. I’m proud of what reporter Karl Henkel and managing editor Mark Sweetwood did during that 2011 period of earthquakes and state denials. Proud that we had a citizen suvh as Costarella to step up as he did.

Our work is worth comparing to the local journalism that exists in Flint during its water crisis. When the dreadful decision was made to switch Flint’s water to the failed system, the local paper celebrated the switch – calling it “a bold move that was carefully vetted.” Citizen complaints were immediate.

When the charade ended this fall, it was a nonprofit journalist and larger media from an hour away that put the final pins into the state’s balloon of lies; not the local paper.

They’re not to blame, necessarily. They did not flee such vital community journalism. The economy to provide for vital journalism fled them. Billions in advertising has fled for YouTube, Facebook and Google. It used to fund such reporting. Just this week came a study noting that millennials are more eager to pay for entertainment such as Netflix than they would for news.

Not funding local journalism is as dangerous to a community as not having an adequate water supply. I wonder what bigger earthquakes we would have faced in 2012 had we not stuck to our mission.

The Flint comparison to Youngstown is odd timing as well, in that the governor is taking over Youngstown schools and imposing its own leadership – just as Michigan did with Flint.

I’m not opposed to it in that the school system is a mess, I don’t trust the locally elected board, and you can’t fall further from the basement level.

That said, the Flint takeover mess is an opportunity here to pause over the city schools’ takeover and ask further questions. And Flint also is a lesson that if there are complaints in the first days of a new system, they shouldn’t be summarily dismissed.

They’re regretting that today in Michigan.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on Vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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