As a legal and political firestorm continues to swirl around the water crisis in Flint, Mich., the massive pipeline project that set the stage for the scandal continues to fly under the radar.
The Associated Press profiles the pending water project that prompted Flint's ill-fated switch from Detroit's water supply to the nearby Flint River — and the controversial local official that pushed hard for its approval.
After state-appointed emergency managers changed the city's water supply in 2014, the improperly treated river water, polluted by decades of heavy industry, corroded Flint's aging water pipes.
As a result, lead and other harmful contaminants leeched into the water supply and effectively poisoned its population, most of whom are minorities and many of whom live in poverty.
The scandal led to heated criticism of state and local officials, and Michigan's attorney general last month announced the first charges in an ongoing state investigation.
The switch to the Flint River, however, was always meant to be temporary — it would save the city the money it paid to use Detroit water until a new pipeline to Lake Huron became operational. Now, some critics are questioning why Flint would pursue its own Lake Huron pipeline at all.
Jeff Wright, the longtime drain commissioner for Genesee County and chief backer of the Lake Huron pipeline, argued that the project would effectively cut Flint's annual water costs in half and make its water supply more reliable.
Others, however, suggested that the motives were political rather than practical — referencing Flint's regional rivalry with Detroit along with Wright's political history and his unilateral ability to award contracts for pipeline work.
"Why would it be appropriate for a several-hundred-million-dollar pipeline to be developed in a region swimming in (water) capacity and populated by two financially distressed cities?" Eric Rothstein, a member of a governor's task force on the Flint crisis, asked the AP.
The task force recently recommended a review of the pipeline, which still has yet to deliver a drop of water to Flint.
"We don't have a problem with anyone coming in and reviewing anything they want," Wright told the AP.