Flint Plans to Replace 250 Lead Lines

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Last month, Flint’s efforts to replace many of its damaged lead pipes hit a snag after the mayor said the bids to complete the work were too costly.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver plans to ask city council to approve contracts to hire two companies to replace no more than 250 lines in the hopes of controlling future costs, according to a Detroit Free Press report last week.

The city had initially hoped to replace as many as 500 pipes using $2 million from the state, but high cost estimates delayed the process and then forced the city to scale back, at least for now, according to the mayor. The plan is now to use about half of the $2 million at the most, replacing water service lines at up to 250 homes.

Weaver said the initial proposed contracts would go to two Flint companies, Goyette Mechanical and WT Stevens Construction, Inc.

Scaling down the contracts is another sign of how difficult it has been for Flint to recover as local, state and federal officials continue to work on stopping lead from leaching into Flint’s water system and replacing the lead pipes suspected of causing the crisis.

Last month, the city’s efforts to replace many of its damaged lead pipes in order to restore safe drinking water hit a major snag after Weaver said the bids to complete the work were too costly. The project’s goals counted on bids to come in around $4,000 per pipe replacement. But that was nearly half the amount charged for replacing the first 33 lines in a pilot project that ended in May. A state consultant also found the average cost of pipe replacement could be far higher in the future.

The city then reconvened with contractors before coming up with last week’s modified proposal to move forward with two contractors. Weaver’s office did not immediately say how much the city expects to pay the two contractors.
If approved by the Flint city council, the two contracts would represent another attempt for the city to determine the true cost of pipe replacement before moving forward on a wider scale, officials said.

Once the city decides to move forward with more pipe replacement, it will be able to use an additional $25 million provided by the state earlier this year. Flint officials said they are constrained in part by strings attached to part of the state funding.

Federal officials have said the tap water in Flint is safe to drink for all residents, including pregnant women and children, if the water is properly filtered. But city, state and federal officials have yet to provide residents a target date by which they believe Flint water will be safe to drink again without using a filter. Many residents say they continue to rely on bottled drinking water.

The federal emergency in the city is slated to expire next month, but state officials have said they expect to help support the city until the water crisis ends.

Flint’s drinking water supply was first contaminated with lead starting in April 2014 when the city, while under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager, switched the source of supply from Lake Huron water supplied by the City of Detroit to Flint River water treated at Flint’s city treatment plant. The Michigan DEQ officials have acknowledged they made a mistake when they failed to require needed corrosion control chemicals.

As a result, lead leached from pipes and fixtures into the drinking water and tests showed lead levels spiked in the blood of some Flint children. Although the city switched back to Detroit water in October, officials say the potential for harm continues because of damage done to Flint’s water distribution infrastructure.

The Flint crisis has sparked national discussion on aging infrastructure and the need to eliminate lead service lines across the United States. A recent study published by the American Water Works Association estimates 6.1 million lead service lines remain in U.S. communities today.

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