Policy ideas to fix Flint’s water crisis (and help avoid another)

Originally published by ModelD

Flint water

Gov. Rick Snyder has apologized for the inexcusable failures of leadership that led to the current situation in Flint, where tens of thousands of individuals, including children, have been poisoned, dismissed, neglected, and lied to. What’s clear at this stage is that great harm has been done to both people and the city’s infrastructure.

Now that state and local government have acknowledged the truth, they will have to do something about it. Any good nerd knows that “I’m sorry” doesn’t de-corrode miles of water piping or detoxify children – we need money to pay for that. But how will we find it? Here are some policy suggestions that could help ameliorate the water crisis in Flint and buttress the rest of our state’s deteriorating infrastructure.

Top it off

In the midst of ongoing financial and social instability in many of Michigan’s cities, the price of oil happens to be at a 10-year low. The current approach to this happy circumstance seems to be to just enjoy the break at the pump, but we are missing a real opportunity. The fact is that Michigan is facing grotesque infrastructure disinvestment, with aging roads and water infrastructure that our governments have proven to be either unwilling or incapable of addressing. We need to take collective action to take advantage of the opportunity that low oil rates present. What Michigan needs is a “Top Off” law that would set a price floor on gas prices.

Under this law, any time market rates of gas fall below $2.00/gallon, the gas station would become a savings account for state and local infrastructure fund. The differential between market rates and that indexed value (which could grow gradually over time) would provide funding for projects from road repairs to water pipeline modernization. If market rates exceed $2.00/gal, then we pay nothing. If prices stay above that index, well, we’re no worse off than we are now. The law would create a fund to address infrastructure issues that aren’t getting paid for now, and certainly won’t be when gas rates hike back up again. Continue reading “Policy ideas to fix Flint’s water crisis (and help avoid another)”

Troopers- looking well


The sunrise this morning is beyond description. Mom and grandma are perched on the couch, looking out the window at the horizon like children waiting for a mysterious visitor to knock on the door. Their innocence and wonder melts my heart and I join them. As the sun rises, is it pierced in half by a narrow thick cloud that creates two mini-suns out of the one. It looks like two egg yolks merging, or rather one egg dividing. I’ve this sort of thing in biology textbooks and through zoomed-in scopes but never at the macro level with my own eyes. We are watching creation, the origin of light, our eager anticipation is being rewarded.

Continue reading “Troopers- looking well”

Troopers- control


This morning, the weather is clear. It’s time to go.

Everything mom does is slow. Maybe not slow-slow but slower than I would do it and it’s frustrating me. Why can’t I be patient? Why do I see in each moment an opportunity to show her what she could be doing better? I feel out of control. There has never been a car with so much steering from the backseat. “Maybe you’d like to drive?” Mom says and I agree but we don’t switch right away. We are going the same place, we are going there together, and when we get there, we will still be together. Breathe. Two minutes later, a car slides down a hill into our lane and smashes into us. Continue reading “Troopers- control”

Troopers- snow canoe


The streets in Marquette are closed off where the sled dogs will be coming through in the next few hours. We get a spot by the window in a downtown pizza parlor and watch the people congregate on the sidewalks. I’ve never see a sled dog race before but I’ve imagined it. In my mind, the starting line looks something like that of a horse race (though I’ve never seen that either), all the teams are lined up together, with animals straining against that boundary for the moment when the gun will blast and they can take off together in a mass of confusion and energy and competition. Continue reading “Troopers- snow canoe”

Troopers- take advantage


I wake before the sunrise to watch it come up.

In the safety of the warmth inside the cabin, I huddle up against the window and look out along the vast and might Lake Superior, not 20 yards away from me. There is a lone streak of color in the sky.

Sunrises are so different from sunsets. When the sun goes down, you know what you are working with– you follow the light with your eye until it is gone. When the sun comes up, you don’t know exactly when or where it will breach the horizon. My understanding of the inevitability of the sun’s rising is clouded with sleepiness and the illogical doubt that waiting for something unseen always brings– what if, this time, the sun doesn’t come up?  Continue reading “Troopers- take advantage”

Troopers- rise UP


Every February, mom and grandma take the long drive up to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to experience the heart of winter in the tiny town of Paradise and watch a dogsled race. The UP 200 is a qualifying race for the Iditarod and I am fascinated by its modest exoticism.

Even before I reached a maturity level where it occurred to me to be nice to my mom, I reluctantly admitted that the trip sounded rather awesome. Now that I’ve reached the maturity level where I deign to love and appreciate and enjoy her, I have been trying to come along on one of these annual trips but it’s never happened before now. I’m doubly excited to be here because we will be returning to some of the sanctified scenes I passed through on foot a year and a half ago en route to a new life.

Well, that life is approximately as messy as it has ever been and I need a break. I don’t know of a unit of measurements for internal chaos but this is registering pretty high. I need to escape that other life for my sake and the sake of those I’ll be leaving behind for awhile. This trip presented itself on the horizon from the squiggles of my everyday life and I am clinging to it. It’s time to rise up: up to the UP, up from the morass of my self-pity and confusion, and up to a place where distance grants perspective and climate demands clarity.

Continue reading “Troopers- rise UP”

From Leelenau to Keweenaw

Over the past 6 weeks I have backpacked across northern Michigan along the North Country Trail. I walked from the Leelenau to the Keweenaw Peninsula- the end of the road- ultimately covering over 700 miles on foot by myself.

It was an amazing trip, and I am so proud, so thrilled to be done. For weeks on end I did not see a single familiar face, and many days passed where I saw no one at all. Without anyone to experience them with, most of these memories are mine alone. But I know that my time out on the trail has made an indelible mark on who I am and that I will always look back on this and an important part of my life. Here are some pictures I took of myself along the way, sometimes to substitute for a mirror when I hadn’t seen my own face in a long time, and sometimes just to remind myself later of where I was and what I did there.NCT Selfie Collage

Next Entry: Closing Thoughts

Previous Entry: Day 45: the end of the road

Day 36: Herman Road to South Entry Road

the bayI can’t sleep without writing damn it! My brain wont let me. I have over 8 hours until my alarm goes off and I look forward to some high-value sleep given that I am in a BED. A woman named Connie from the nearest North County Trail chapter took me in. Yay! I think that I’m sleeping so many hours lately not just because I’ve been walking so much, but also because the sleep has been so unrestful. In addition to the normal issues of cold nights, teetering on my sleeping pad and bug bites, I have been scared every single night since leaving Marquette. Its amazing to have such a stretch of fear after having none at all up until now. I’m a more seasoned backpacker now, but I am not immune to the threats of coyotes, wolves, moose, questionable mushrooms, and murky grey shapes behind trees in the rainy-soaked dusk. Last night I had a new concern– drunk drivers.

I slept just off a road, which seemed to be very untraveled. I tried setting up my camp in a piece of property just off the road but the ground was a hard-packed clay. The whole tent relies on the tension between the two ends and it collapses without a good hold so I absolutely needed to stake it. I dragged my half-made camp down the road another ½ mile until the looming darkness demanded that I settle for what was available– a little turn-around near an entrance to some private property. I could see skid-marks in the clay dirt and suddenly the remoteness of the location began to feel sinister instead of secure. Just like the last time I slept in a turn-around like this, it was Friday night. I could easily imagine some bros with a pick-up and nothing better to do driving around back roads with a 6-pack, spinning out and goofing off where they thought no one else would find them. After fretting in my tent awhile, I got out and set up my pack against the road-side end of my tent, hoping to create a barrier or at least a speed bump for any potential threat. Of all the ways I have contemplated dying on this trip, getting run over by a drunk driver is the least appealing- nothing poetic about that at all. Continue reading “Day 36: Herman Road to South Entry Road”

Day 35: McCormick Wilderness to Herman Road

pathIt’s 5:00 and I’m resting at a campsite along the trail. I have a few hours to go but Im due for a rest. I had yet another intensely frustrating morning, the unmarked trail often passed through very sparsely wooded areas so it pretty much all looked like “potential trail.” It was like a Magic Eye optical illusion where I could make out imaginary lines coming in from all directions toward me like an asterisk. I learned to detect if I was not on the trail by whether or not I had to block branches. The ground was ambiguous but these paths are groomed sometimes and trees don’t grow fast enough to extend over the trail. In this way I figured out that if I had to duck, I was in the wrong place. I bounced around the woods like a pinball, running up against the property line here, a cliff there. I finally saw a road from a cliff but, I couldn’t get to it. I contemplated the steep rocky side: so close but so far away. I decided not to be an idiot and finally resigned to making my way down the gradual slope instead.

Finally, I saw two people. I wanted to cry. I asked them where the trail was and they pointed me to a trail head in a parking lot only 200 meters away, the end of the McCormick Wilderness. Ugh. The thing about being lost is that as soon as you find help, you’re no longer lost. It was nice to see them anyway though, and they gave me two Cliff Bars and a Gatorade.

I was considering using my low rations of food as an excuse to catch a ride to the nearest town of Baraga while I sat and ate my snacks and waited for my water to purify. Then two more cars pulled up (party!) with more kind souls in them, 4 men and a woman on a little fishing outing. They gave me more delicious food and took a picture of me for mom with instructions to send it to her as proof of my well-being. It’s been a long time since she heard from me so I’m sure she’s worried. The woman was a mother, and she seemed touched by my attempt to comfort my mom with a picture.  She gave me a long hug and said “this is from your mother.” She smelled like perfume. It was a deeply touching moment, my eyes teared up.

For the second time today I wanted to cry but couldn’t do it. I think I need to feel utterly helpless to let go like that. This trip is such an interesting combination of empowerment and humility. Sometimes I feel so self-determined “I am in charge, no one else.” Other times, I realize how helpless I am: when I’m lost, when I’m out of water, when my mail is late, when the wolves or coyotes or moose come alive at night, when the weather is bad, when all I want to do it lay down but can’t because no one will come and save me. The truth is, no one else is in charge but I’m not either.

I have traveled a record distance today- nearly 29 miles. I was so rejuvenated by that hug and by being back on a marked trail that I pounded out the miles. A lot more hills here too. I felt strong. Last night in bed I felt my body and there was a definitely a noticeable change in my thighs- less to grab. That sense of “muscular toughness” powered me on today. I was so in the zone that I didn’t fully realize that I have officially left the North Country Trail. At some point I passed my last blue blaze but there was no ceremony, I just tromped right by. I guess it’s fitting in a way.

From that point on I will be on roads and snowmobile paths and shorelines but no more true trail so there’s more navigating to do. My first choice was to decide between going North (my direction of travel) or take a slight detour South to the “town” of Nestoria. It was out of my way but I wanted to charge my phone and see about buying supplies. I saw a billboard for a general store and when I made it there I was crushed to see that it was boarded up– out of business. I sat pitifully in front of it for a minute and saw a dusty electrical outlet on the side of the store and charged my phone! It’s amazing how little things like that have such a powerful impact on my mood, it felt like a major victory.

Screen Shot 2014-08-09 at 2.04.24 PMThis is the longest I’ve gone on the trail without bathing. The last time was Monday night with my Marquette monsieur, it is Friday now and I don’t know when my next chance will be. Somehow I honestly don’t feel that dirty though of course I am filthy.

I made it to Highway 41, a hugely symbolic destination for me. This road travels from Key West in Florida all the way up here to the northernmost tip of the Upper Peninsula, ending in Copper Harbor, where I will end my trip with it.

Continue to the next entry in this series here: Day 36: Herman Road to South Entry Road

Go back to the most recent entry in the series here: Day 34: Red Road to McCormick Wilderness

Day 34: Red Road to McCormick Wilderness

500 milesLast night I slept 12 hours. I was cold. I should’ve put the rain fly on but when I opened my eyes to get up, I immediately saw a shooting star. I didn’t want to cut myself off from the sky so I closed my eyes with a smile and snuggled in.

My light is dead so I am writing blind. I hope I can read this later. I made it to 500 motherfucking miles today. It feels really good. I say “…and I would walk 500 miles…” but it was rainy and hard going so I wasn’t exactly happy in the traditional sense.

Continue reading “Day 34: Red Road to McCormick Wilderness”