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Private groups get a jump on the city and start digging up Flint's lead service lines

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

The city of Flint plans to start digging up lead service lines tomorrow. But today, a contractor paid by a private group got to work doing the same thing on the city’s north side.

Brittani Felton watched from her driveway as workers dug a deep trench in front of her home on Flint’s Alma Avenue. At the bottom of the muddy hole lay the service line connecting Felton’s home to the city water main.

She’s had her water tested, but the results aren’t back yet. 

Felton is worried her children have been exposed to lead in their tap water. She’s glad to see the old pipe go. 

“I’m just hoping that not just I can benefit from it ... but everybody should be able to benefit from this,” says Felton. “Everybody deserves to have clean water and keep their kids safe.”

Jenan Jondy speaks for several private groups, including the Flint Coalition and the Flint Islamic Center, that are paying for removing the pipes.

She says it’s time to move forward.

“It’s been a year and 10 months,” Jondy says, pointing to the length of time concerns have been raised by Flint’s drinking water. “What impacts my neighbor impacts me.”

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Still half-buried in mud at the bottom of the trench is the old service line connecting Brittani Felton's home to the city's water main.

Jondy declines to say how much money they’ve raised so far to fund their private campaign to remove lead service lines. It’s not cheap. The contractor doing the work says it costs about $5,000 to $6,000 to remove an old service line and replace it with a new copper line.

There are also complications. For example, today the work was halted temporarily as there was some confusion about whether the group had the proper city permits to do the work. They did, so the work continued.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver announced plans last month to start replacing thousands of lead service lines.   The old pipes are suspected to be a source of lead leaching into Flint’s drinking water. By one estimate, there are at least 8,000 suspected lead service lines in Flint. 

Money is a problem. 

Weaver estimates the cost of replacing the lead service lines at more than $50 million. The city only has about $2 million from the state in hand. The governor is asking for another $25 million. 

In a statement, Weaver says she understands Flint residents are “anxious” about the lead service lines and want them removed. 

A spokesman for the governor’s office says a thorough process is underway to identify where all the lead service lines are located.   

“There are many variables to address before the state would start removing and replacing water pipes in Flint to minimize any risk from doing something that could cause further problems for Flint residents,” Ari Adler said in a written statement.

But back on Alma Avenue, even with a new service line, Felton says she plans to continue using filters on her taps. She won’t trust the water is safe. 

“Until they can give a guarantee that the water is the way it should be,” says Felton, “then we’ll drink the water.”

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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