Flint calls for bids for more pipe replacement work

Nicquel Terry and Jacob Carah

Flint— The city is preparing for the next phase of a $55 million lead-pipe replacement effort.

Mayor Karen Weaver’s office announced Tuesday with the release of a Request for Proposals that businesses interested in doing the work have until June 16 to submit proposals. Pipe replacement would begin shortly after, she said.

Flint is working to repair damage to its water system that went on for 18 months when the city stopped getting water from Detroit’s water system and began drawing its water from the Flint River. The city failed to treat Flint River water with corrosion controls, which launched the city’s contaminated water crisis.

Conditions have slowly improved since October, when Flint began getting its water again from the Detroit-based Great Lakes Water Authority.

Water experts delivered a report Tuesday offering evidence that the city’s water is becoming healthier for all uses.

Earlier this year, Weaver launched the lead pipe removal plan, the FAST Start initiative, with the goal of replacing an estimated 15,000 service lines with copper in the next year at no cost to homeowners.

The upcoming phase will be funded with $2 million the city received from the state as reimbursement for paying to switch back to the Detroit water system. The city plans to replace 550 miles of iron pipes containing lead.

“We hope this project also will help revive our economy by getting the people of Flint back to work in one of the most important jobs there is right now, removing lead-tainted service lines leading to homes to help Flint recover from this man-made water disaster,” Weaver said in a statement.

The latest request for bids is designed to attract local contractors, said Derrick Jones, head of the Purchasing Department, at a town hall meeting in Flint on Tuesday. He said the bids are targeted to make it easier for smaller companies to “handle the contract.”

Adjustments for smaller, local contractors will be made after a preproposal meeting. The mandatory meeting for potential contractors is at 10 a.m. June 8 in Flint’s City Hall Council Chambers. Potential vendors will meet with the city’s Purchasing Department and Utilities Division.

“If there has to be some tweaking or if there are some questions that the city can not answer at that time, then we will get those answered and post an addendum to the city’s website,” Jones said.

He reiterated what Weaver has said about the lines replacement: It can be an educational initiative for youths who want to learn a craft and boost local employment.

In the pilot phase of the FAST Start initiative, lead pipes to 33 homes were removed, according to the city. The number of pipes replaced in this phase is contingent on bids granted. The city said contractors will do the work in sections of 50 or 100 houses.

Weaver said she asked the City Council to waive permit fees for line replacements but members rejected the idea. Flint, she said, is already cash-strapped and the council wants to avoid putting the city in a bind.

Weaver has called on state and federal lawmakers to fund the entire cost of the FAST Start program.

“I know things aren’t happening as fast as many would like, they aren’t happening as fast as I would like,” Weaver said. “But we aren’t going to stop until we get the lead out of Flint. That’s my top priority and I hope our state and federal legislators will show it’s theirs as well, by providing the funds needed in the city of Flint to recover from this water crisis.”

Harold Harrington, business manager of United Association Local 370, who has been leading the Fast Start efforts, voiced his concerns about what he said was the lack of funding for the initiative.

“We need to be able to do a whole block at a time and not jump from east side to the west side,” he said. “We need to be able to get in there, line up and do a whole street a time ... ”

Harrington said apprentices could accompany licensed journeymen on the site to “train Flint residents so they have a trade at the end of this, but you don’t want a bunch of people in there who don’t know what they’re doing.”

The Flint plumber spoke of the complications of working with the dated, incomplete records of residential lines in the city. “They’re talking 500 (lines) for $2 million, I don’t think you’ll get 500 for that, not the way the first 30 went.”

Harrington said the complications from the variety of lines into homes poses a problem for line removal and installation.

“They’re all different,” he said. “You got an inch-and-a-half lines, you got 1 inch lines, and three-quarter lines, you have them 8 foot deep, or in clay, or you can’t pull them,” he said.


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