State proposes Hardest Hit Fund use to replace pipes

Jacob Carah
Special to The Detroit News

Flint — The state may pursue using federal blight removal funding to pay for the elimination of lead service lines in the city.

Kevin Elsenheimer, Michigan State Housing Development Authority’s executive director, said Thursday he thinks money from the federally awarded Hardest Hit Fund could be used to fund lead line replacement in response to Flint’s ongoing water crisis.

“If we don’t do anything about the lines coming in, or the appliances that might have lead, it could affect the property,” he said. “It could lead to abandonment of homes. It could lead to foreclosures, and that’s exactly the kind of thing the Hardest Hit Fund was intended to prevent.”

The MSHDA has proposed the use of $10 million for pipe removal in a preliminary evaluation to get the effort started. This plan comes a month after a state plan was approved by the U.S. Department of Treasury for Flint to receive $13.9 million to fight blight.

Michigan has received more than $761 million dollars in assistance for blight removal and foreclosure prevention since 2010. In April, Michigan was awarded $188.1 million in the latest round of the federal blight funding sweepstakes.

The authority submitted a report to Treasury concerning the city’s pipes, Elsenheimer said.

“This issue has not been approved by Treasury, and, frankly, we haven’t even asked Treasury, formally, to allow us to do this yet,” he said.

MSHDA has about 536 very low-income units in the city impacted by the lead-tainted water and more than “2,000 people living in multi-family units that we also have responsibility for,” he said.

Elsenheimer said the MSHDA has “a responsibility to those residents” and those housing units might need service lines and faucets replaced.

But approval of this plan will need to come from MSHDA’s board and then from Treasury.

“That process is going to take some time,” Elsenheimer said.

On Thursday, Mayor Karen Weaver addressed lead line removal in Flint, announcing the city will release requests for proposals Friday to complete the next stage of its “fast start” program.

“We’ll be using the $2 million (provided by the state) to replace the lead and galvanized steel service lines leading to hundreds of more homes in the next phase of the program.”

The program will continue in a month’s time with “the number of pipes to be replaced to be determined by the bids that come in,” Weaver said.

“Flint residents are willing to do their part by flushing their pipes to help restore the poisoned water system,” she said. “Now, the state and federal governments must do their part so we can make sure Flint has the money it needs to replace all the lead-tainted pipes in the city.”

The first phase of the “fast start” program was facilitated by a $500,000 contract between the state and Rowe Professional Services of Flint. Weaver has estimated another $55 million will be needed for the next phase of the year-long program.

Weaver also on Thursday spoke directly to Flint residents to increase their water use over the holiday weekend as part of a citywide flushing effort.

“I’m encouraging Flint residents to increase their flushing efforts to remove the lead from the water,” Weaver said. “Wash your cars, water your grass, do whatever you can come up with.”

The mayor reminded the public there is only five days left in the Flush for Flint initiative to remove lead particulates from the city’s damaged water system.

The state has said it would pick up the tab for the water use, with the funds for the program coming from the state Department of Environmental Quality.

At a minimum, the Weaver said, “we are encouraging and asking people to run the water in their bathtubs for five minutes and do the same thing with their kitchen faucets, but make sure the filter is turned off.”