Dingell Pushes For State And Federal Assistance After Floods In Washtenaw And Wayne Counties

Jul 2, 2021

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell
Credit Michigan House Democrats / housedems.com

Recent heavy rainfall brought significant flood damage to many southeast Michigan communities, including Washtenaw County. The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners has declared a state of emergency, but, in order to get further aid, a state of emergency must be declared by Governor Whitmer, as she did in Wayne County. 12th District Representative Debbie Dingell spoke with WEMU's David Fair about the need for immediate help and a massive investment in new transportation and water infrastructure.

TRANSCRIPTION:

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and I'm David Fair. The heavy rains of last Friday and Saturday brought significant flooding to portions of southeast Michigan that includes Washtenaw and Wayne counties. Washtenaw County has declared a state of emergency and asked Governor Whitmer to do the same. Whitmer has already declared a state of emergency for Detroit, Dearborn, and Wayne County. These areas are represented by 12th District Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, who, after a break of a few weeks, once again joins us for a Friday conversation. It is very nice to have you back on WEMU again.

Debbie Dingell: Well, good morning, David, and it is great to be back.

David Fair: We all know people who have suffered some water damage to their homes. We've all seen the pictures and video of flooded roadways and submerged cars and trucks. Have you had the opportunity to survey some of the damage in your congressional district?

Debbie Dingell: I have been talking to people monitoring it since it, you know, since the storm started last Friday night, Saturday morning. The first calls woke me up at two a.m. on Saturday morning. I was texting photos to the governor on Saturday. Had to be in Washington during the week this week. But I'm going back out now this morning and will be touring Dearborn. We'll do Dearborn Heights over the weekend. There has been extensive damage. People are angry. They are scared. They are frustrated. They need immediate help to stay safe, get basements cleaned out. There have been some tragic things that have happened. People have been without electricity for days. Washtenaw, too, as you know, has been hit—Ypsi, in particular--very hard. Talking to the governor, I talked to the governor every day, quite frankly, and have told her now that Washtenaw has declared a state of emergency. And then, quite frankly, David, I talked to the President about it. I was with him on Wednesday. He knew about the floods. I said, "Mr. President, I got to talk to you about a flood." He said, "Debbie, I know about I know they're bad. I'm here to help."

David Fair: And the President will be in Traverse City this weekend and is scheduled to meet with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. So we might see some more quick action taken.

Debbie Dingell: But I want to say this to you. The governor was on with FEMA. I have talked to him. Other people have. There are it's great that the mayor is going to talk to them. But it's not just Detroit. It's a lot of other surrounding areas in one more voice helps. But all of the federal officials, the governor, local officials have been communicating. So, everybody's been there. And the President talked to me. He was fully informed when I talked to him on Wednesday.

David Fair: Our conversation with Michigan's 12th District congressional representative Debbie Dingell continues on eighty nine one WEMU. You say you've been talking with the governor on a daily basis. Do you expect that she will declare a state of emergency for Washtenaw County?

Debbie Dingell: I think she's getting the data. That's one of the things that people are very frustrated with because they just want help and they want you know, they want to know who's going to help them pay for what the damage is. But in order to qualify for FEMA, we have to document the damage. I would keep saying please take photos inside and outside and put an estimated number on it and send it to your city. Ypsi has been collecting it at City Hall. Greg Dill has also been collecting it, who is the executive director of the manager for the county. The governor has asked and FEMA has agreed--I've been talking to FEMA to myself almost every day--will come in and do assessments next week. So but you got to have the data. That's one of the important things why people have been focused on collecting that this week.

David Fair: A report heard on NPR showed that 95 percent of the people who requested emergency aid last year from FEMA after the wildfires in California were denied. Should people in our area be concerned?

Debbie Dingell: We have to build a case. I take it very seriously. And I think that's why I'm trying to say that everybody is working very hard. So we just have to go in and make sure that cases and I want to raise a lot of issues again. You know, I've been flooded three times in the last few years myself. I was lucky this time I was not, but I couldn't get flood insurance. So we've got to really go in and understand how we protect ourselves. I'm tired of people telling me this is a once in a lifetime rain when it's happening every year to somebody in my immediate vicinity. We need an independent outside study. What do we need to be doing? Why is it happening? There are obviously a lot of factors. 94 is going to stay closed by me now for weeks because pumps didn't work well. They didn't have electricity. We don't have backup pumps. After I got flooded three times, I put it in a new sump pump and they put a backup into it. So we got to what do we need to do structurally? We need someone like the Corps of Engineers who know what they're talking about to give us recommendations. But we also need to understand what's failed this time and why did it fail from Washtenaw all the way over to Macomb County? You know, Candice Miller, who I respect, is made some observations. We need to investigate and understand it. But we all can't forget about this. When this gets cleaned up, it goes out of our mind. This is going to keep happening and we've got to address it. We all have got to agree this needs to be a priority. We need to address our infrastructure. And what are we going to do so that when it comes because it is going to come again, we are better prepared.

David Fair: This all speaks to the larger issue of aged and inadequate infrastructure. And as you mentioned, climate change is bringing more frequent major storm events and what was once considered once in a generation storm is now coming more frequently and are likely to increase in the years to come. U.S. House yesterday passed a transportation and water infrastructure bill that would begin to invest in making the improvements necessary to accommodate a changing climate and what it brings. CNN and Fox said it was 715 billion dollars. The Washington Post and the Hill says it's 760 billion dollars. Which is it?

Debbie Dingell: You know, we'll have to see what it is when the Senate now goes to this isn't--we all know nothing gets passed until we get the Senate on board. And, hopefully the Senate is going to take this bill, get something done, we'll go to conference. But whatever that amount of money is between 715, 760 and what the Senate agrees to, it's a significant amount of money that needs to be invested. Our infrastructure right now, the kinds of results that we're seeing when we have rainstorms is comparable to any third world country. And we should not be proud of that. We have not invested in it for decades. It has been put off and it's getting worse, not better. I mean, when you get a flood on 94 and now it's going to take several weeks to reopen it because the roads are that bad. That water sat there for too long. Why did the water even get there? And the construction's been so bad that that's going to happen. We all need to make this a priority. If we want to be an area that's great to live in, we want to continue to thrive. We want economic development. We need to make infrastructure a priority the times here, and it'll create more jobs as well. There are many things that matter and why this is so important.

David Fair: In yesterday's vote, only two Republicans sided with Democrats in passing the measure. So as it heads to the Senate and as you said, it is an uncertain future there. I know you reach across the aisle not only in your chamber, but in both. What are you hearing?

Debbie Dingell: You know, I think that there is real consensus. And you have to remember that this bill is called the Surface Transportation bill, which is a reauthorization of a bill every five years. You will also see in the next all during the summer. We probably will go later than we planned of further work on the bipartisan agreement that you heard about in terms of infrastructure for our roads as well. We have not authorized the surface transportation bill in many years. It really matters. I think senators over there understand how critical this is to every one of their states and to their districts. I'm hopeful we're going to come together and do something in a nonpartisan American way to fix our aging infrastructure.

David Fair: We're talking with Congresswoman Debbie Dingell on Eighty-Nine One WEMU. And the fact of the matter is, as we look ahead to what is going to become necessary in whether it passes at 760 billion dollars or not, it's a drop in the bucket. So as we take a longer view of infrastructure needs and the investment necessary, what do we as individuals have to consider?

Debbie Dingell: Well, I think you all need to--I think in southeastern Michigan--, we need to come together as a region and say, "What do we need to do?" Some of it's very expensive. Can we get I think federal, state, and local officials have to get that independent assessment to begin with. What are the real recommendations? And while each of us has our own and the Dearborn area, we've got the Rouge River and Ecorse Creek, which have been problems forever. You have problems over on the east side that are different problems. But we're all connected, and we need a strategy. And then we need to get federal, state, and local leaders together and say, "OK, this is what's doable." But we've got to address it. And then what? You know, we can have pie in the sky numbers. But what's realistic? What do we need to do? And then how are we going to go get the dollars for it? And it probably needs to be a combination of federal, state and local matches.

David Fair: While all of this plays out it locally in Lansing and Washington, there are people hurting immediately, some without shelter or food. That's why our local service organizations like Food Gatherers and the Red Cross come in. We all wish there was no need for such services, but when needed, it's both impressive and inspirational to see the work being done. So despite circumstantial hardship and political polarization, in some cases we know we can come together when needed. And, you know, do you think that's reason for hope and optimism?

Debbie Dingell: It is. You know, I've been working with many of the groups all week and they are wonderful and we're reminding people of that. I will tell you this weekend we need volunteers to continue to help people clean out their basements, get things out to the shelters. They're older. Many of our senior towers haven't had electricity and a senior living both in Washtenaw. And we have had real challenges. If you're willing to volunteer, we need you to this weekend. It's a great weekend, the Fourth of July, but it always makes me want to cry when you do see people care about their neighbors and come together to help.

David Fair: Thank you so much for the time today. Representative Dingell.

Debbie Dingell: David, it's good to talk to you. Happy 4th to people. And let's just help each other in these times of need. And in southeast Michigan, it's a time of need this weekend.

David Fair: That is 12th District Congresswoman Debbie Dingell on your community NPR Station 89 One WEMU FM and HD One Ypsilanti.

RESOURCES:

Rep. Debbie Dingell

Debbie's Blog

Rep. Debbie Dingell on Facebook

"Washtenaw County Declares State of Emergency in Response to Widespread and Severe Flooding"

Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu