By Katrease Stafford
An aggressive plan to remove Flint's lead-contaminated pipes from the water distribution system was announced Tuesday by city officials who said the city will first target the homes of high-risk populations, including children and pregnant women.
The plan to remove the pipes is in the early stages, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said, but it will get a major boost in help from Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, who has offered technical assistance from the Lansing Board of Water and Light, which has removed more than 13,000 lead pipes in the city.
"We are here today to take a stand to get the lead out of Flint," Weaver said. "To start, we must remove and replace lead pipes immediately, and we want to start with the high-risk homes of kids under 6 and pregnant women. ...These lead pipes have got to go."
Weaver said the city will work with the medical community and the Department of Health and Human Services to identify at-risk populations, which might also include elderly people.
Weaver said there's no plan to relocate residents, and it's unclear when the pipe replacements will begin. Weaver said the city is still gathering information but she noted the effort is separate from any assistance or aid the state or federal government might plan later.
"They (Lansing) have perfected a method for replacing the lead service lines that's more than twice as fast and only half the cost," Weaver said at a news conference. "No trench is required. The process takes four hours, instead of 10 hours, at a cost of just $2,000 to $3,000 per line."
Virginia Tech researcher Marc Edwards, who helped bring the city's water problems to light, praised the replacement efforts and the officials in Lansing who are helping with the effort.
"This is a great thing for the City of Flint and the country," Edwards said. He added: "What's being proposed here is perhaps a model program to fix the problem once and for all."
It's not clear how much the replacements will cost Flint, but Weaver said Lansing's project cost around $42 million. Weaver said the city would seek a mixture of public and private funding.
"We'll be looking at the philanthropic community," she said. "This must happen immediately. I am morally obligated to use every bit of power and authority my office has to make Flint's water safe and the city successful for the people who live and work here."
Bernero said Lansing has fewer than 700 lead lines left to replace, and the project will be completed by the end of next year. The replacements took 10 years, he said.
"If Flint is hurting, we are all hurting," he said. "I want to let Flint residents know you are not alone. We intend to see Flint back on its feet."
Weaver announced the creation of the Fast Action and Sustainability team, which will be led by retired Brigadier Gen. Michael McDaniel, who will be the key liaison between her office and Gov. Rick Snyder's administration. McDaniel recently served as the deputy assistant secretary for Homeland Defense Strategy, Prevention and Mission Assurance. He was appointed by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm as her Homeland Security adviser in 2003 and served in the role until July 2009. McDaniel said he will oversee strategic planning.
Weaver also announced a new initiative at the news conference, the Flint Advisory Community Team, to "bring the community's voice forward." She said in the days ahead, she will name co-chairs of the team who will be community leaders.
At the end of January, Weaver called Snyder's response to the crisis -- including asking the Legislature for $28.5 million in immediate funding -- "good first steps," but not nearly enough to address the situation. Snyder has since signed the emergency funding into law.
Flint's drinking water became contaminated with lead in April 2014 after the city, while under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager, temporarily switched its source from Lake Huron water treated by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to water from the Flint River, treated at the Flint water treatment plant.
Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant resigned in December after acknowledging that the DEQ failed to require the addition of needed corrosion-control chemicals to the corrosive Flint River water. As a result, lead leached from pipes, joints and fixtures, contaminating the drinking water for an unknown number of Flint households. Lead causes permanent brain damage in children, as well as other health problems.
The FBI is now investigating the contamination of Flint's drinking water amid a growing public outcry.
The U.S. Attorney's Office announced Jan. 5 that it was assisting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a Flint drinking water investigation and Monday, Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman, said federal prosecutors are "working with a multi-agency investigation team on the Flint water contamination matter, including the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, EPA's Office of Inspector General, and EPA's Criminal Investigation Division."
"Our work here in Flint is just getting started," Weaver said Tuesday. "We've got to have a plan for what's next. A bold, comprehensive strategy. Not only to pick up the pieces but to put it all back together again and move this city forward to a flourishing, a prosperous and sustainable future."
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