By Tom Travis
City of Flint residents can expect remaining lead line replacements and restorations to sidewalks, curbs and yards to begin in the coming weeks. At its Monday meeting, the city council approved a $17.8 million contract with LGC Global, based in Detroit, to take on the mammoth task of completing more than 400 lead pipe replacements and 8,500 restorations throughout the city.
According to Mike Brown, Department of Public Works (DPW) director, the average cost for each restoration is about $1,300. The cost is an “average” because some restorations will involve new sidewalks, curbs and lawn repair while others may be only a small patch of grass to be repaired, Brown explained.
There are 600 residents who have still refused workers to come onto their property to excavate and replace water lines. These residents have refused workers on their property for various reasons. Brown said the City continues to contact them to see if they’ve changed their minds.
According to the City of Flint website there have been 27,133 excavations, 17,074 copper service lines installed and 10,059 pipes replaced, as of July 16, 2021. This is the final and “last phase” of lead line replacements and restorations. If LGC Global is able to complete the task by Dec. 31, 2022 it will be complete.
In 2014 the Flint Water Crisis began when it was decided to switch the source of Flint’s water supply from Detroit to the Flint River. The water from the river was so corrosive it began eating away the lining in the older lead pipes throughout the city. Poisonous amounts of lead began to enter the city’s drinking water setting off a cataclysmic, decade long struggle for the city to repair its water supply. The water lines began to be investigated and it was decided to replace every connector throughout the city.
Five ‘yes’, one abstention and three absent
The council debated the resolution for more than an hour during Special Affairs committee that began at 4:30 p.m. and then again for about the same amount of time during the Council meeting itself about four hours later. Ultimately the final vote was five “yesses,” by Councilpersons Lewis (Ward 2), Murphy (Ward 3), Priestley (Ward 4), Pfeiffer (Ward 8) and Worthing (Ward 9) with Councilperson Mays (Ward 1) abstaining, there were three councilpersons absent Winfrey-Carter (Ward 5), Burns (Ward 6) and Herkenroder (Ward 7).
“We have the manpower. We have the equipment.” – LGC Global Executive Vice-President
LGC Global Vice-President of Business Development Johnny Hardiman explained to council their company has more than 350 employees, adding that about 10 to 15 per cent of their employees will be dedicated to work on this contract in Flint. LGC Global anticipates hiring local Flint workers but didn’t specify for what kinds of jobs, said Hardiman.
Hardiman expects to shut down restoration work in mid-November or early December due to weather but he added lead line replacements likely could continue through the winter.
“We are doing similar work in the city of Detroit. We will start immediately with the restorations. We have the manpower. We have the equipment,” said LGC Global Executive Vice-President Tom Hardiman. He explained the crew would need “a couple of days to gear up and find the critical areas so we can strategically set in in motion a plan to achieve the greatest impact as quickly as possible.”
Contractors in the Flint Water Crisis
Lead line replacements and restorations began in 2016, two years after the Flint Water Crisis emerged. A line of contractors have been involved with lead line replacement in the ensuing years, including Rowe Engineering beginning in 2016, Rowe was replaced by retired National Guard General Michael McDaniel in 2017. Finally, the embattled AECOM was contracted at the end of 2017.
Now, once again, Rowe Engineering will oversee all contracted work and assist LGC Global to develop and oversee the plan for all lead line replacements and restorations, according to the City’s Purchasing Manager Lauren Rowley.
“My back is up against the wall” Councilperson Priestley
As the council debated the resolution, many points of contention surfaced. Councilperson Judy Priestley (Ward 4) complained to the administration as to why resolutions are often brought onto Special Affairs committee “last minute” rather than going through Finance Committee. “Why do you keep bringing it up at the last minute? I feel like my back is up against the wall. We need to spend the money, we need to get confidence back in our water system and we need to fix the lines,” Priestly said. “My back is up against the wall, we need to get this work done. The residents of this city want safe water.”
Councilpersons Pfeiffer and Murphy complained of the same “last minute” and “rushed” resolutions by the administration.
“This last minute garbage is by design” Councilperson Pfeiffer
In response to Priestley’s comments, Pfeiffer chided the administration, “This last minute garbage is by design. It is by design to put our backs to the wall.” Pfeiffer pointed out that bid tabulations were completed in June, DPW Director Mike Brown signed off on it three weeks ago, and “it’s now just coming to Special Affairs. We have no time,”
WIIN funding deadline looms – Dec 31, 2022
At issue was a “hard-stop deadline” of Dec. 31, 2022 when the WIIN (Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation) and The State of Michigan funding ends for the water line replacements and restorations. The City of Flint requested an extension to these funds already in 2021 and it was granted. The EPA usually grants only one extension, according to DPW Director Brown. City Attorney William Kim told council he sent a letter to EGLE asking them to request another extension from the EPA. The City has not heard back from EGLE (Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy) nor EPA yet.
If LGC Global is unable to complete the work and the EPA does not grant a second extension, the City will have to look to other funding sources, according to DPW Director Brown; he did not say what funding sources were being considered, if any, at the time. Brown said, “the work has to be done. So we’ll have to find funding from some other source.”
200 contractors notified only one bid for $17-million contract
Many council members expressed concern over the fact that only one contractor submitted a bid. Purchasing Manager Lauren Rowley explained the City notified more than 200 contractors of the open bid for the $17 million contract through a service called BidNet. Rowley said there are 24-pages of contractors. Rowley said six contractors showed up to the first pre-bid meeting and eight contractors for the second pre-bid meeting. “It was a surprise to us that only one bid,” Rowley said.
Pfeiffer paused before asking the Clerk to call for the vote. Hanging his head, he said he was “agonizing” over the vote. In the end, hesitating, Pfeiffer voted in favor of the contract. Speaking to EVM during a meeting break, Pfeiffer said, “I’m hoping they’re successful. I’m optimistic that they’re successful.” Pfeiffer admitted that due to the “sheer numbers” of restorations and number of employees LGC Global could commit to the project added, “Common sense tells me they’re not going to be successful.”
Brown said the only contractor he had heard from was Lang Construction of Flint, who told him they had let their people go and didn’t think they could get them back for the project.
Brown said he is unfamiliar with this contractor, LGC Global of Detroit. “This is the first time I’ve heard of them,” he said.
EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org