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Opinion: Pipe replacement program welcomes scrutiny

Michael C.H. McDaniel and David Sabuda

As coordinator of Mayor Karen Weaver’s FAST Start pipe replacement program and the city of Flint’s interim chief financial officer, we believe a close eye should be kept on how the city spends state and federal dollars.

In 2016, the Legislature, provided up to $5 million to the city for service line replacements, but with specific oversight. The Office of Auditor General (OAG) is required to conduct preliminary and final audits of the city’s expenditures. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and OAG already had reviewed and approved the city’s bid procedures.

The state also is providing another $20 million as a match for Congress’ grant of $100 million toward repairing Flint’s water infrastructure. The city submitted a budget plan that was pre-approved by the state. Now, the city will review and approve invoices from the contractor, and then submit its expenses to the state for reimbursement. There is no payment to the city until the state has received and reviewed the city’s requests for payment.

We repeat: There is no reimbursement until the state approves.

During the 2016 phase of the FAST Start initiative, the city of Flint’s website posted frequent updates on how many service lines had been replaced and where the crews would be working each week. We are happy to continue being completely transparent with the public and with government officials about the project status and expenditures.

Further, the state already limits the city to paying no more than $5,000 for each pipe replacement.

We are working hard to keep down costs while assuring contractors are paid a fair but competitive amount for each pipe replacement, and are being held to a strict schedule for getting the work done.

We have an ambitious plan for getting lead-tainted lines replaced at 6,000 homes this year and each of the next two years, and we intend to meet those deadlines.

In closing, the pipe replacement program already has extensive oversight, both from the state and the EPA. That’s why creating a Flint Authority to oversee the city’s pipe replacements is unnecessary.

After spending more than a year in Flint seeing the effect on city residents who still must use filters on their faucets to make sure they’re not ingesting unsafe levels of lead, we are well aware that there’s a lot of need in the city, and that every penny coming in for the FAST Start initiative must be spent wisely.

We are committed to being even more transparent on the pipe replacement plan’s progress and finances.

Brig. Gen. (ret.) Michael C.H. McDaniel is coordinator of Flint Mayor Karen Weaver’s FAST Start pipe replacement program and associate dean at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. David Sabuda is Flint’s Interim Chief Financial Officer.