The bids to replace lead service lines with copper pipes at 500 homes considered the highest risk for lead exposure in Flint, Mich., came in “extremely high,” according to Mayor Karen Weaver, whose staff is supposed to meet again this week with potential contractors.
The cash-strapped city, which has been dealing with a tainted water crisis going back to April 2014, had budgeted $2 million, or about $4,000 per house, for the first big phase of its pipe replacement plan.
Meanwhile, State Rep. Joseph Graves is questioning why Flint officials have yet to accept the donation of free polyethylene (PE) service lines from Los Angeles-based JM Eagle, the No. 1 pipe extruder in North America. Back on Feb. 22, CEO Walter Wang offered enough free product to replace lead service lines (LSLs) carrying water to all homes and businesses.
Flint is looking to replace some 5,000 LSLs as well as 10,000 galvanized steel lines, which corrode and form nooks and crannies where lead particles can settle. The city isn't sure about the composition of another 10,000 lines.
Graves, a Republican from Argentine Township, called the JM Eagle proposal “a no-brainer solution.
“This is a generous offer that will save millions of dollars — taxpayer dollars from across the state — and provides the city with safe, clean water for decades to come. I don't understand why Mayor Weaver has not accepted the gift,” Graves said in a June 27 news release.
The mayor told The Detroit News that Flint hasn't ruled out the use of plastic pipes, is researching the difference between copper and plastic materials, and plans to ask JM Eagle for “clarity on the issues that have been identified.”
Graves pointed to the benefits of PE pipe, which include a service life up to 100 years and cheaper trenchless installation methods.
“Right now the mayor is saying all the bids to replace pipes came in too high, and wants contractors to take into consideration the city's limited resources,” Graves said. “Accepting the offer of free pipes to me would be a common-sense way to alleviate a huge expense in replacing the lead lines.”
Lead leached into the water supply when the source of drinking water was switched from Lake Huron to the caustic Flint River without the addition of anti-corrosion controls. The protective coating on lead pipes was eaten away and the neurotoxin leached into the water system.
In May, Flint water customers were urged to run their cold water for at 10 minute a day to recoat their taps. On June 23, they finally got the green light from federal officials that the majority of the 99,000 residents can safely drink filtered tap water.
Even so, Mayor Weaver has said replacing the LSLs is a priority to restore confidence in the city's housing stock, restaurants and government. But replace them with what? The question lingers.