Private Flint pipe replacement bid halted

Jacob Carah
Special to The Detroit News

The first lead-line replacement began in Flint on Thursday, then abruptly ended after a contractor was stopped by authorities.

Saying the community could not “wait any longer,” Jenan Jondy of the Broome Center said Mohammed Hammoud of Crescent Contracting was hired by the Flint Coalition, a consortium of private businesses and individuals, to begin pipe removal in the city, according to the Flint Journal.

Hammond’s crew was to work on lead pipe removal on up to three houses. Local activist Arthur Woodson said the crew arrived early at 717 E. Alma on the city’s north side, along with the mayor’s chief of staff nominee, Steven Branch, and Councilman Eric Mays.

Then, Woodson said, police arrived as “we started to dig up the lead service line.”

Police alerted the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and “people then came out and made us stop digging, temporarily, to check and make sure we had the right permits,” Woodson said.

Tensions rose and construction was halted, according to the Flint Journal and WFNT.

According to DEQ spokeswoman Melanie Brown, it was the city’s decision to stop the work.

“The Michigan DEQ did not shut down the job site as the work was not a state project,” Brown said. “DEQ understands the city made the decision to halt the work.”

She added the DEQ “arrived onsite to determine what work was being done upon hearing media reports. Once it determined the work was not a state project, it departed the project site.”

The aborted dig came as Mayor Karen Weaver said she was kicking off on Friday her “fast-start” initiative, a $55 million effort announced in February to replace residential lead pipes.

The initiative “will be targeted first at homes in neighborhoods with the highest number of children under 6 years old, senior citizens, pregnant women, people with compromise immune systems, and households where water tests indicate high levels of lead at the tap,” she said.

Flint’s water crisis began when the city switched to highly corrosive Flint River water in April 2014 from Detroit’s system as a money-saving measure.

The city likely has 8,376 lead service lines, according to the University of Michigan-Flint.

In February, Weaver said in she is working closely with the White House, the Michigan Legislature and Congress to secure funding for her lead-pipe removal project and long-term funding “to fully repair the city’s devastated water distribution system.”

On Wednesday, state House Republican Speaker Kevin Cotter said he does not plan to take up any further supplemental appropriations for the Flint water crisis. Cotter said other resources being sent to the city “should be considered during the overall budget process,” the Flint Journal reported.

Weaver said she was “totally shocked at the unilateral decision of Speaker Cotter to block much needed immediate state aid to Flint, given the ongoing revelations that show the role of state government in the contaminated water catastrophe our city continues to face.”

Brig. Gen. Michael McDaniels said he still is optimistic the fast-start plan can be completed within the one-year time frame.

“It’s a very audacious goal to meet, but its going to take a lot cooperation from the citizenry,” he said. “We’re trying to put this data together — the key point is that we don’t have all this data yet,” McDaniels said, “but we can gather more data as we start removing lines, and we get better information the more service lines we remove.”

Weaver said “many of these issues require immediate resources, with the lives of children and the economy of our city at stake.”

“For Speaker Cotter to say we should wait until October to maybe — maybe — have these most dire threats addressed shows callous disregard for the lives of the people of Flint,” she said.