Water supervisor Robert Bincsik: Flint Plant was in a state of disrepair at the time of the switch to the Flint River
On June 9 and June 13, 2022, Robert Bincsik testified in court. Mr. Bincsik was the Water Distribution and Sewer Maintenance Supervisor in Flint, responsible for the City’s water distribution system. He worked closely with his counterpart, Mike Glasgow, who was responsible for the operation of the Flint Water Treatment Plant (FWTP). Both Bincsik and Glasgow vehemently opposed the City’s decision to switch Flint’s water source and raised concerns about the FWTP’s ability to produce and distribute safe drinking water. However, their concerns were dismissed.
On the day Mayor Walling “flipped the switch” to the Flint River, Mr. Bincsik made a conscious decision to keep his distance from the Mayor and Department of Public Works Director Howard Croft. He told the jury that he did not want to be in videos showing the switch, or to participate in press conferences regarding the switch, because he rightly predicted that the switch had the potential to result in tragedy.
Here is what else you need to know.
VNA recommended the implementation of corrosion control to address potential issues with lead, but the City did not follow this recommendation.
- When he first learned of the high lead test result at LeeAnne Walters’ home, Mr. Bincsik emailed City officials to say that Mr. Gnagy from VNA had suggested adding phosphates to Flint’s water to address possible issues with lead.
- The recommendation to implement corrosion control treatment was also in VNA’s final report to the City, although Mr. Bincsik was not provided a copy when it was first issued.
- Mr. Bincsik testified he thought it was odd that the City would seek pay for recommendations from VNA but not actually implement those recommendations.
- Mr. Bincsik also testified that he once asked Howard Croft if he thought it was odd that the City was not implementing VNA’s recommendations, even though the City had paid VNA to make them, and Mr. Croft told him that he did not think that was odd at all.
At the time of the switch, the FWTP was damaged, old and far from being ready for an alternative water supply.
- Mr. Bincsik testified that the Plant was in a state of disrepair at the time of the switch to the Flint River, with 250 hydrants out of service, hundreds – if not thousands – of valves either broken or in an unknown condition and 400 water main breaks in 2013 and 2014 alone.
- He testified he warned Utilities Administrator Daugherty “Duffy” Johnson in 2013 that the water distribution system was in “terrible” repair and that “any number of tragedies caused from its failure are always lurking around the corner.”
- Mr. Bincsik explained to Mr. Johnson that he did not have the resources to repair the distribution system and that the City needed to act “ASAP” to address these problems.
- Due in part to the City’s poor financial condition, he testified that the City typically only did the minimum required by regulators when it came to its water supply.
Flint officials pushed forward with the switch and resisted calls to return to Detroit Water.
- Prior to the switch, Mr. Bincsik shared his concerns about the Plant with various officials, including Mayor Dayne Walling, Emergency Manager Gerald Ambrose, Mr. Croft and Mr. Johnson. He recalled an “unpleasant” conversation with Mr. Croft where he told him the Plant was not ready for operation, but Mr. Croft insisted on moving forward with the switch.
- He also testified that he met with Mr. Glasgow, prior to the switch, who showed him the email he had sent to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) objecting to the re-start of the Plant for full time operations.
- Mr. Bincsik said there was an overarching objective to keep the Plant running because it would save the City considerable money. This mandate did not change even after the City began receiving hundreds of citizen complaints about the taste, color and smell of their drinking water.
The City did not have accurate records regarding the use of lead service lines or fittings in the water distribution system
- Mr. Bincsik testified that he submitted a report to the State in 2013 that stated that 80% of the lead service lines were made of lead, but that this number was a “SWAG” – a scientific, wild-ass guess.
- He further stated that the City often had to rely on handwritten index cards from decades ago to try to determine the composition of a service line.
- After high lead levels were detected in Flint resident LeeAnne Walter’s home, Mr. Croft told City engineers to check her neighbors but never authorized a system-wide review of lead service lines in Flint and never informed the City’s consultant, VNA, of the results.