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Originally published by the Detroit Freepress
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver outlined Tuesday an estimated $55-million public works project expected to begin within a month to remove Flint’s lead-contaminated pipes from the water distribution system.
First priority will be given to high-risk households with pregnant women and children, Weaver said at a news conference at City Hall.
“In order for Flint residents to once again have confidence and trust in the water coming from their faucets, all lead pipes in the city of Flint need to be replaced,” Weaver said. “The success of the Fast Start plan will require coordination between the city, state and federal officials as well as funding from the Michigan Legislature, Congress or both. I’m asking Gov. Snyder and the state to partner on this effort. We’ll let the investigations determine whose to blame for Flint’s water crisis, but I’m focused on solving it. It’s going to take time to get this done, but we’re going to move quickly to get this done.”
Last week, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver called for the immediate removal of the city’s lead-contaminated pipes and announced a plan that will get a major boost in help from Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, who has offered technical assistance from the Lansing Board of Water and Light. Lansing has removed about 13,500 lead pipes in the city.
The Fast Start plan will require extensive coordination between city, state and federal officials, as well as funding from the Michigan Legislature and Congress, Weaver said. Weaver was joined Tuesday by retired National Guard Brigadier General Michael McDaniel, who said he believes the project can be done within a year by 32 crews. McDaniel– who is assisting in coordinating activities between the the city, the Lansing Board of Water and Light, state and federal agencies, and other stakeholders– said the project could begin within the next month. But McDaniel reiterated the plan is still in its early phases and much of it is based on “assumptions.”
“We are trying to balance urgency with precision,” McDaniel said. “We have made a number of assumptions in our plan, is what I’m saying, because we had to make those. We do not have all the data we would like to have, but we do know enough based on the assumptions we had to make to go forward.”
The preliminary project scope developed by the BWL shows that up to 15,000 lead pipes could be removed in one year “under optimal conditions,” Weaver said.
McDaniel noted that while it took the BWL 10 years to remove 13,500 pipes, he believes they can move quicker in Flint because they’ve perfected the process. McDaniel and Weaver said Flint crews would also be involved in the project.
“We are in the process of reaching out to the state for their assistance of the data and of the planning itself with funding, as Mayor Weaver also said,” McDaniel said. “We are developing a detailed timeline. I cannot tell you we will put a shovel in the ground tomorrow, but I will tell you that we will do it very soon. …When we say replace those lines, we mean the entire line from the main to the meter.”
The project would be broken into two phases, with the first targeting high-risk households of children under the age of 6, children with elevated blood lead levels, pregnant women, senior citizens, residential day care facilities, people with compromised immune systems and households where water tests indicate high levels of lead at the tap.
The project will not immediately address schools, businesses and other locations in Flint, according to a document released by the city detailing the plan. The city said most large facilities are served by “high-capacity cast iron water services,” and not the typical lines found in residential water services.
“Eliminating lead components from the entire water distribution system and from inside homes and buildings is a longer-term project that will require additional planning and additional resources,” the document states. “For institutional entities like schools an businesses, bottled water can continue to provide for their short-term needs.”
McDaniel and Weaver declined to say where exactly in the city the project would begin.
Phase two of the program would ramp up to a “full-scale operation” that would bring in 32 crews and a “robust administration and logistics support team to meet the 1-year goal,” Weaver said.
McDaniel said the cost of the projected $55-million effort could fluctuate due to the architecture and condition of the water distribution system. The estimated cost per line is $3,670, according to a city document. Of the $55 million, about $1.5 million will go toward administration and logistics, according to the city, which said personnel costs are estimated at $900,000 and operations costs are projected to be $600,000. According to the city, the bulk of the cost – $36 million– will go toward the labor and about $9.7 million will go toward the materials.
According to the city, the Fast Start program will remove and replace the lines at no cost to the homeowner. However, homeowners will be required to sign an agreement that authorizes Flint to remove and replace the portions of the lines on their private property and allow access to the meter inside the home.
The lines will be replaced with new copper lines and a water filter will be installed at the kitchen tap for three months as a precaution, city officials said.
Flint’s drinking water became contaminated with lead in April 2014 after the city, while under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager, switched its source to the Flint River as a temporary cost-cutting move and the state Department of Environmental Quality failed to require the addition of needed corrosion-control chemicals. As a result, corrosive water caused lead to leach from pipes, joints and fixtures, causing many citizens to receive water with unsafe lead levels. The state has told residents not to drink the water without filtering and says it is treating all Flint children as having been exposed to unsafe levels of lead.
The FBI is now investigating the contamination of Flint’s drinking water amid a growing public outcry. U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, proposed an emergency $1-billion grant to be authorized through the Environmental Protection Agency, and two Democratic U.S. senators and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, proposed up to $400 million in dollar-for-dollar matching funds from the state to do much the same thing.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Jan. 5 that it was assisting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a Flint drinking water investigation and Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman, said federal prosecutors are “working with a multi-agency investigation team on the Flint water contamination matter, including the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, EPA’s Office of Inspector General, and EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division.”
Several lawsuits have been filed in connection with the crisis. Monday, the family of a 2-year-old girl whose blood test results showed the toddler suffers from lead poisoning, announced an individual suit against Gov. Snyder, former Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley, former Flint Mayor Dayne Walling and several other state and Flint officials.
When asked at the press conference if she believes Snyder will support the plan, Weaver said the city can no longer afford to wait.
“We’re putting forward our plan and we cannot wait for that,” Weaver said. “We don’t trust that and we deserve new pipes. That’s the only way this community is going to be confident and people will stay here and people will come. I cannot imagine that he would not support this plan. If he doesn’t, shame on him.”