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ACLU, NRDC lawyers watching to see if Flint completes lead pipe replacement project on time

lead service line held by worker
Mark Brush
Michigan Radio

Attorneys representing groups that sued to force the replacement of Flint’s lead service lines expect the job will get done this year.

Earlier this week, the city of Flint awarded contracts to replace the lead and galvanized pipes connecting homes to city water mains. It’s the final phase of a project started at the height of Flint’s water crisis. The pipes were a primary source of lead in Flint’s drinking water.

The program is being paid for with money secured through a lawsuit against the city and state.

In a Facebook Live chat at the Detroit office of the American Civil Liberties Union-Michigan, the plaintiffs in a $97 million settlement funding pipe replacements and their attorneys gave an update on the status of the project.

“We’ve had our differences with the city and the state,” says Michael Steinberg, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. “But I think that it’s in everybody’s interest to make sure that this gets done. And we’re going to work together with them to cross the line together.”

Where the finish line is is still to be determined.

Flint officials say the final phase of the Fast Start project is targeting 4,000 to 8,000 service lines. A University of Michigan professor estimates there are 7,500 service lines to be checked.

“We’re estimating roughly 2,500 homes that are likely to have lead lines,” says Dr. Eric Schwartz, U of M Ross School of Business professor.

Schwartz says preliminary results from pipe replacements this year show the city’s contractors are following a federal judge’s order that the city focus on service lines that are likely to be lead or galvanized steel, rather than copper, that doesn’t need to be replaced.

Since starting in 2016, at the height of the Flint water crisis, the city has inspected more than 20,000 service lines and replaced roughly 8,000 lead or galvanized pipes.

Flint officials hope to complete the pipe replacement project by the end of July, though the city’s public works director admits that timetable is “optimistic.”

To meet the terms of a settlement of a federal lawsuit, the city needs to complete the project by the end of the year.  

“We expect the city will do what it said and what it’s legally committed to do,” says Dimple Chaudhary, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The most important thing from our perspective is that we’re going to be watching every step of the way.”

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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