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Critics closely watching Flint's lead pipe replacement program as deadlines loom

Crews digging up a water service line in Flint, Michigan (file photo)
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Crews digging up a water service line in Flint, Michigan (file photo)

The city of Flint is facing court-ordered deadlines to complete its lead pipe replacement program.

And an attorney who took the City of Flint to court over its lead pipe replacement program will be closely watching.

Nine years ago this month, Flint’s drinking water source was switched, with disastrous results. Pipes damaged by improperly treated river water released lead into the drinking water.

Since then, the city has inspected more than 27,000 service lines and replaced more than 10,000 which were lead or galvanized. But hundreds of pipes remain unchecked for lead.

Addie Rolnick is an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. At a townhall meeting last week, she updated Flint residents on the pipe replacement program which is years behind schedule.

“In Flint, despite the hard work of Flint residents for years and years now, the city has mismanaged this program and has missed its deadlines,” said Rolnick.

A city spokeswoman said Flint is on track to meet court ordered deadlines.

By May 1, the City of Flint must identify the status of restoration for all homes where service line excavation and replacement has previously been completed.

“The city is on track to complete this task by May 1,” said Caitie O’Neill, Flint city spokeswoman. “Crews are conducting visual inspections of properties and leaving door hangers at homes where they have determined that restoration is complete.”

O’Neill said the City of Flint is also on track to complete all lead service line checks and replacements by August 1.

Still NRDC lawyer Addie Rolnick noted that the city has missed numerous court-ordered deadlines in the past.

“We certainly do not want to go back to (federal) court a sixth time,” said Rolnick, “ But we’ll be doing everything we need to see to make sure that this overdue work gets done.”

Meanwhile, another Michigan community forced to replace lead service lines is nearly done.

Elevated lead levels were detected in Benton Harbor’s drinking water in 2018.

Since then crews have inspected nearly 4,500 service lines. Only 19 remain to be inspected and/or replaced.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people who sued for damages over the Flint water crisis will have to wait longer to receive compensation.

Special Master Deborah Greenspan filed an update with the court last week. 

Greenspan hopes the claims review process will be completed this year.

In the filing, she said the claims administrator will be issuing notices to some of the more than 45,000 claimants in the next few months.   

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.