Flint — Mayor Karen Weaver announced a $55 million effort on Tuesday to replace residential lead pipes in the city to combat its water contamination crisis.
Weaver described it as a “fast-start plan,” which officials would like to begin within a month, with priority given to high-risk households. The Lansing Board of Water & Light will provide Flint officials with technical advice on how to unearth and replace the city’s sprawling 550-mile-long network of iron pipes containing toxic lead metal that has tainted Flint’s water supply.
“The Lansing BWL pioneered lead pipe removal, techniques that can be used to efficiently to remove lead service lines in Flint quickly and at a lower cost than traditional methods,” Weaver said.
Officials say with 32 crews, the plan aims to replace an estimated 15,000 service lines with copper in the next year at no cost to homeowners.
Weaver called on Gov. Rick Snyder and the state to partner on the lead service line replacement program.
“We are going to restore safe drinking water one house at a time, one child at a time until the lead pipes are gone,” she said. “We are ready to roll up our sleeves and get the lead out of Flint,” she said.
The program is expected to average $3,670 per household. Schools, businesses and other nonresidential locations aren’t targeted by the program.
“The success of the fast-start plan will require coordination between the city, state and federal officials as well as funding from the Michigan Legislature, the U.S. Congress or both,” she said. “... We’ll let the investigations determine who is to blame for Flint’s water crisis, but I’m focused on solving it.”
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver's "fast start" program hopes to replace lead pipes in Flint at an estimated $55 million.
Weaver made the announcement Tuesday alongside retired Brig. Gen. Michael McDaniel, who has been tapped to lead the effort given his experience in emergency management, critical infrastructure and homeland security issues.
“We are trying to balance urgency with precision,” McDaniel said. “We have made a number of assumptions in our plan because we had to make those. We do not have all the data that we would like to have to make the clearest, fullest plan possible.”
McDaniel and Weaver say they are working on a detailed timeline for the project but do not have an exact date to break ground. Weaver said the effort will move quickly and build, however.
McDaniel, meanwhile, said he wants a proof of concept: “We want to take those households that are the high risk households, and we want to replace those lines immediately. And when I say replace, I mean the entire line from main to meter.”
McDaniel also addressed initial efforts to recoat existing pipes with corrosion control to build up a protective barrier — a plan supported by Snyder — as well as restoring trust within the community by saying: “if we fully coat all of the lead service lines and we still have lead in the house, then the families are never going to believe us when we say it’s not that lead service line whether coated or not.”
Lansing’s public utility also estimates that the 32 crews working regular full-time hours could replace Flint’s 15,000 water service lines containing toxic lead metal within a year, city officials said Monday.
“BWL is stepping up and helping the mayor of Flint and the people of Flint with their expertise in removing lead pipes,” said Randy Hannan, spokesman for Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero.
Bernero recently offered Lansing’s assistance to Weaver because of the capital city’s experience in removing aging lead service lines.
Lansing BWL has slowly replaced 13,500 lead service lines since 2004. The remaining 650 lead-soldered water lines running from city streets into homes and business are scheduled to be removed by June 2017, said Stephen Serkaian, executive director of public affairs for Lansing BWL.
Hannan said Lansing BWL’s water utility staff met Monday with Flint’s public works staff to begin an advisory role that could eventually result in Lansing technicians training Flint workers on how to best remove lead service water lines.
“We are in the early stages of evaluating the scope and nature of the LBWL’s engagement with the City of Flint given its knowledge and history with this issue,” Flint spokeswoman Kristin Moore said Monday in an email.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated it would cost $50 million to $80 million to replace all the lead service lines in Flint.
BWL officials “crunched the numbers” to estimate it would take 32 full-time crews a year — and no unforeseen problems — to replace all of Flint’s lead-tainted water pipes, Hannan said.
Bernero began efforts to rid Lansing of lead service pipes when he was a state senator, his spokesman said. The mayor could not be reached Monday for comment.