Flint pilot program to study lead-pipe removal

Jacob Carah
Special to The Detroit News

Flint — The Flint City Council on Monday gave the nod to a pilot study for local companies to remove lead water lines in the city.

“What we’re saying is let’s start the process, so this pilot program will help understand where the lead is because much of lead replacement we have done, didn’t have lead pipes,” said council President Kerry Nelson, representative of the 3rd Ward in the city.

The vote allows the city to enter into contract for the Mayor KarenWeaver’s fast-start replacement with WT Stevens Construction Inc., Johnson & Wood Mechanical and Goyette Mechanical, using $2 million in grant money received from the state. It is intended to help resolve the city’s long-term water contamination problems. Key is removing the city’s lead service lines, Weaver has said.

The plan is to replace pipes in 250 homes to gauge the costs per home, Brig. Gen. Michael McDaniel, the manager of the fast-start initiative, has said.

WT Stevens is set to be awarded $320,000 for 50 properties that will require full service-line replacements. Johnson & Wood Mechanical will receive the same amount for “full service and partial line replacements,” according to the city. Goyette Mechanical will replace 150 water lines.

After decades with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, Flint began drawing from the Flint River in April 2014, a move to save the city money and to tide it over until a new regional system, the Karegnondi Water Authority, was ready.

City Council President Kerry Nelson calls a speaker to order during a public comment portion of a council meeting on Monday night.

But state and city officials failed to utilize corrosion controlling chemicals, leading to lead contamination of the drinking water.

Some residents voiced frustration Monday during the meeting about why the fast-start program is taking so long.

“We are making progress,” Weaver said last month. “It may not be happening as fast as many would like, including myself, but it is happening. This is a very important process and we want to get it right.”

Resident Perry Alexander finished the Environmental Career Training program at Mott Community Collegein hopes of finding work.

“We go through all this rigorous training to learn how to replace these pipes, and now I’m just waiting, waiting on when I’m going to get the call,” he said. He called the delays the ‘politics’ of pipe removal.

“I don’t want to go anywhere else, I don’t want to move, Flint is my home,” Alexander said, “... I want to help my city, I want to work, the only holdup from what I can understand is getting these contracts out.”

In June, when bids for pipe replacement went out, Weaver said the bids were “extremely high, much higher than anticipated.”

“We hoped contractors would have taken into consideration the city’s limited resources,” she said.

The issue remains finding funds, said McDaniels. “... We only got $27 million to work with and of that $2 million to perform this pilot study,” he said.

Councilman Nelson said he understands the frustration.

“Its been months and months of this fast-start program, so we need to start somewhere,” he said.

Gov. Rick Snyder recently signed appropriations bills that boost state and federal funding to $236 million for the 2016-17 fiscal year for Flint. That total includes $25 million for removing and replacing lead service lines.

In addition, Flint last month submitted a long-term plan for water system work and pipe replacement to the Department of Environmental Quality as it seeks more money through the federal Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund.