More than a month has passed and no action has been taken on JM Eagles' offer to provide free plastic pipe to help the beleaguered city of Flint, Mich., deal with its lead-tainted drinking water crisis — even as local officials look to fund an estimated $55 million of service line replacements.
However, the cost of the task at hand and the value of the offer made in person by CEO Walter Wang at a Feb. 22 City Council meeting is becoming clearer. A preliminary cost breakdown projects Flint needs $9.75 million for “material,” $36 million for “labor” and $9.25 million for operational, administrative and contingency costs to meet its goal of replacing 15,000 service lines — 5,000 of which are known to be lead service lines (LSLs).
Wang had told city officials his Los Angeles-based company would provide free product to replace LSLs connecting homes and business to water mains in the cash-strapped city of 100,000.
JM Eagle is the No. 1 pipe, profile and tubing extruder in North America with estimated sales of $2.5 billion, according to Plastic News' latest ranking. The company has 22 manufacturing plants that produce PVC and high density polyethylene pipe for drinking water as well as sewage and irrigation. HDPE pipe would likely be used to replace service lines.
If at least one third of the targeted service lines are lead, JM Eagle's offer is likely worth at least $3.25 million to Flint. But it could worth more based on an estimate made by a University of Michigan professor, who puts the number of LSLs going to Flint's 56,000 homes and businesses at 8,000.
About three weeks after JM Eagle's offer, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver launched the Fast Start program to replace service lines to 30 “high-risk households” that either tested high for lead levels or are occupied by children under age 6, senior citizens, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems.
Kristin Moore, Flint's public relations director, said copper pipe is currently being used to replace service lines. The offer from JM Eagle was referred to city administrators, she added.
“The only update is that it is still being considered but for the work being done right now we're still using copper,” Moore said in a phone interview.
The replacement of service lines at the initial 30 households started March 4 and should be completed around the March 31 target date. Then, the Fast Start program is supposed to ramp up throughout the city as funding becomes available. The plan is to continue using copper pipe, Moore said, adding that she expects JM Eagle's offer will go through some kind of vetting process.