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Flint pipe-removal effort working through early delays

Apr 1, 2016

Credit Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Crews working to replace Flint's lead water lines have encountered some delays.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver's goal for the first 30 days of work was to replace lead lines for 30 homes. As of Friday morning, crews had finished work on only 19.

Michael McDaniel, former National Guard Brigadier General and professor at Western Michigan University's law school, is heading the removal effort, called the Fast Start initiative.

He said bad weather forced crews to halt work for three days. On top of that, researchers from the University of Michigan and Wayne State University are conducting water testing, which delays crews further. Additionally, McDaniel said workers are encountering more galvanized pipes than expected, which take longer to replace because they require a time-consuming horizontal drilling method.

While his early estimates put the average replacement time at four hours, McDaniel said the homes have varied greatly, with some taking as much as double that time.

Still, with crews working on eight additional houses Friday, McDaniel said they should be back on schedule by early next week. The first 30 days were a pilot phase of the project, he explained, and the crew is learning how to work more quickly.

The project is a balance between "precision and efficiency," McDaniel said.

"There was a real need to show the citizens of the City of Flint that we were moving forward, and that we were committed, as we say, to getting the lead out of Flint," he said.

McDaniel added that despite some early delays, it should be clear to Flint residents that the mayor and his team are focused on repairing the city's water system.

"As long as we show forward progress, as long as we show we're keeping our word to the people of Flint ... then I think that their trust in the mayor will continue," he said. 

McDaniel said the next goal is replacing pipes for 400 to 500 homes roughly between May and September.

This pilot phase cost the state $500,000 for a contract with Rowe Professional Services Co., a Flint company, according to the city. They add that the next phase will cost about $55 million. The mayor hopes the money will come from the state and federal government soon.

"The work is going well, but we still need our state lawmakers to approve the $25 million that Governor Snyder requested," Weaver wrote in a press release. "I am determined to meet (our goal to replace all lead lines) so the citizens of Flint can trust that their water is safe to use again."