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Flint activists say court should issue new deadline for lead line replacement

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

Some Flint residents say a federal judge should set a new deadline for the city to replace all its lead service lines.

According to a 2017 settlement, that was supposed to happen by early 2020. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other complicating factors, the city hasn’t finished the project yet — though it says 97% of all lead service have been replaced so far, and the city is “committed to getting the job done for the health and safety of Flint residents.”

Melissa Mays said that’s unacceptable. She’s with the Flint group Water You Fighting For.

Mays said due to the instability of Flint’s damaged water infrastructure, residents still have trouble trusting that their water is safe, despite that Flint water has tested below the federal action level for lead since 2016.

“Our system is unstable because of the corrosion bomb, basically, from the untreated water that hit our system,” Mays said, referring to the improperly-treated water that corroded the city’s pipes when it switched from Detroit-sourced water to the Flint River in 2014, precipitating the city’s water crisis. “And it didn't just hit our service lines, it hit the distribution mains in our interior plumbing.

“Until all of that is replaced properly, Flint is still going to struggle with unstable water that continues to fluctuate and cause harm to the residents of Flint.”

At a hearing in Detroit’s federal courthouse on Wednesday, plaintiffs urged a federal judge to impose a new deadline for lead line replacement on the city. The city of Flint has said that’s unnecessary, because it’s already agreed to a new target date for completion of August 1, 2023.

“City of Flint contractors are continuing to excavate and replace lead service lines throughout the winter months, as weather allows,” the city said in a statement. “Residents who have not yet had their water service lines checked and replaced are encouraged to submit consent forms and schedule service.”

But activists have other complaints. They say that in some of the homes where lead lines were replaced, contractors did a poor clean-up job, leaving behind damaged ground, mounds of dirt, and other hazards and eyesores. The city has admitted to a lapse in record-keeping that means it’s not entirely sure where damaged properties are, but said it’s sending crews out across the city to inspect sites and is addressing the issue.

And some Flint residents think the city should still be distributing bottled water. The city stopped doing that at the end of 2022, as allowed in the settlement. But activists argue that the city should continue doing so anyway, saying that faucet filters aren’t good enough for the community’s most vulnerable citizens.

“We’re still falling short in ensuring that our children and our families are getting the tools that they need to survive and thrive, in the aftermath of one of the largest public health disasters in the history of this country,” said Nayyirah Shariff, director of the group Flint Rising.

The two sides made their arguments in front of Judge David Lawson in court on Wednesday. It’s unclear when Lawson will issue a ruling.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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