Snyder: Flint approved $500K study, pilot project

Karen Bouffard, and Chad Livengood

Dimondale — Gov. Rick Snyder said Monday that Flint Mayor Karen Weaver agreed to give Rowe Professional Services a $500,000 no-bid contract to study Flint’s water system and do a preliminary sample replacement of 30 lead service lines.

Weaver was evasive last week about whether she agreed with the contract, telling The Detroit News she “was surprised” by the company’s hiring.

The Republican governor announced the contract with the Flint-based engineering firm last week as it seeks an update of the city’s antiquated records of water service lines. There are an estimated 35,000 homes and businesses in Flint with lead service lines, according to the Governor’s Office.

“It was signed off before we signed it,” Snyder said Monday, indicating Weaver’s administration was given as much as two weeks to study the contract before the deal was announced. “I literally said, ‘We’re not going to move forward unless the city signed off on it.”

The idea is to replace some lead service lines “to understand the process and what’s required,” he said.

During a Detroit News interview last Wednesday, Weaver wouldn’t say whether she supported or opposed Rowe’s hiring.

“I was surprised when that was the company selected,” Weaver told The Detroit News. “When the citizens heard that, they were surprised. We’ve gotten a lot of phone calls about that. That was the governor’s plan.”

When pressed about whether she approved of Rowe or not, the mayor did not state a position.

“I would really like us to be in sync with one another,” she said.

Although the University of Michigan-Flint has completed a study of the water service lines, it is based on city records that have shown problems.

UM-Flint researchers said Monday the city likely has 8,000 lead service lines based on 45,000 index cards on file with the city government, nearly half of initial projections of 15,000. About 4,380 (4,376) are known lead service pipes, and another 4,000-plus lead lines are estimated to exist based on Geographic Information Systems Center data, said UM-Flint Professor Marty Kaufman.

“Through this process, we’ve found cases there have not been lead service lines (where) they said there had been and vice versa,” Snyder said Monday. “The paper records are not the most reliable. They’re a starting point but more work needs to be done.”

The governor said the target is to replace 30 lead service lines in the next 30 days.

The governor made the comments during after a tour of the State Emergency Operations Center in the Lansing area, where he laid out Michigan’s multi-pronged response to the Flint lead-contaminated water crisis.

Michigan’s response to the Flint water crises has not yet turned any corners, Snyder said.

“I don’t take anything for granted. I want to get this resolved, so that’s not my approach to it,” Snyder said during question and answer session with media. “I want to make sure that we’re working hard to make sure the residents of Flint get water filters, cartridges, what they need.

“We’re doing the water sampling now to go through the process …to make sure the water’s going to be safe to use out of the tap again. We’ve got the infrastructure study going on to determine where the lead pipes are. We’re focused on a process to identify the high-risk ones, get those under the ground, and then move forward with lead pipe replacement.”

Michigan’s response to the water disaster in Flint is headquartered at the new, $23 million facility near Lansing. There is also a Unified Command Center in Flint that is home base for the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other state and federal agencies, as well as private foundations, that are addressing humanitarian and environmental issues there.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Keith Creagh announced initial data from 400 “sentinal” sites identified as the focus for lead testing by the DEQ and EPA. Among 175 samples tested for lead and copper, nearly 90 percent, or 156 of the samples, were at or below the federal action level for lead of 15 parts per billion.

Another 136 sites had more than 5 parts per billion of lead, a level some experts consider the safety level for lead content in drinking water.

Freelance writer Jacob Carah contributed