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Lawmaker criticizes Flint for not taking plastic pipes

Jacob Carah
Special to The Detroit News

Flint — A state lawmaker says Flint is making a mistake by not taking up an offer from a California-based company for free plastic pipes to replace the lead lines in the city.

According to state Rep. Joseph Graves, R-Argentine Township, JM Eagle, a manufacturer of polyethylene plastic pipes, made the offer to the city in February.

“This is a generous offer that will save millions of dollars — taxpayer dollars across the state — and provides the city with safe, clean water for decades to come,” Graves said in a statement Monday.

Mayor Karen Weaver responded Monday afternoon, saying engineers were consulted and raised “concerns about the lifespan of the plastic pipes due to the harsh weather conditions we experience in Michigan.”

Officials are seeking to replace Flint’s lead pipes as the city deals with lead contamination after it switched its water source in April 2014 from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s system to the Flint River.

Weaver said Monday the city has not yet ruled out the use of plastic pipes.

“We are committed to proceeding with our effort to replace the city’s lead-tainted pipes using the most safe, durable and cost-effective products and materials,” Weaver said in a statement.

Weaver added the city is doing additional research on the differences between copper and plastic pipes and alerted the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and other independent experts about the company’s pipes.

“At this point, we are still waiting to hear back,” said Weaver, adding Flint officials plan on reaching out to JM Eagle for further “clarity on the issues that have been identified.”

Graves argued the plastic pipes are durable and have a 100-year service life.

“If there are any concerns about the safety of plastic pipes — and there should not be, as the pipes meet all standards for delivering chemical-free drinking water — perhaps the mayor should reconsider where the city gets its water from,” he said.

On Feb. 22, JM Eagle CEO Walter Wang appeared before City Council to offer replacement pipe for all lead-lines connected to water mains in Flint home and businesses.

No deal was struck at that time, but Wang told local ABC News affiliate, WJRT-TV, that “I’ve been reading about this water crisis, this contamination issue, which is hurting human beings,” Wang said. “There’s a lot of articles written but I don’t see anybody offering a long-term sustainable solution.”

Wang couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.

Councilman Eric Mays said Wang’s offer needs to be “revisited.”

“Now that some money is starting to float in, it might be time to look at that again,” Mays said. “I don’t know for sure if that offer was completely turned down. I know that it was made early in the process.”

Weaver, meanwhile, is facing stronger scrutiny over her slowed fast-start initiative to remove lead-lines throughout the city, a plan that has replaced a few dozen at-risk residential lead service lines.

“Right now, the mayor is saying all the bids to replace pipes came in too high,” Graves said.

Weaver said last week that several bids were submitted but they all came in higher than anticipated and none were awarded.

Saying Weaver should embrace the offer from JM Eagle, the former Genesee County commissioner and township trustee said, “accepting an offer of free pipes seems to me would be a common-sense way to alleviate a huge expense.”

Other City Council members weighed-in Monday.

Councilman Scott Kincaid said “the administration hasn’t shared any information with the council in that regard.”

“I remember the owner of the company that came before the council, but I don’t recall a refusal of the offer,” he said

Kincaid added he “would like to look at the details again. It sounded like a really good deal, but I don’t know if there is other information out there on the difference for replacing service lines with plastic or if we are already going in that direction.”

Councilwoman Monica Galloway said Monday that “any time you have a company that is willing to help apply aid to the economic and financial burden’s this city is facing is welcome assistance,” she said. “I have not heard anything further, though, I can see why there would be questions and concerns about that (offer).”