Hydro-excavation ban slows lead pipe replacement due to mayor’s precaution

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FLINT (WJRT) (8/8/2018) - Flint's Mayor Karen Weaver took to Facebook Tuesday to show a lead service line she says would've been over-looked had crews been using the hydro vac excavation tool.

"This is what MDEQ and the state need to come and look at. You know, they want us to hydro excavate because it's cheaper and they want to again put profit over the public health and well-being of the people," she said in the minute-long video.

The Mayor has not allowed contractors to use the hydro-vac excavation tool since phase 5 of the lead service line replacement project began in June.

"We're incurring a huge amount of man hours and loss of productivity as a result of that," Joe Parks, Goyette Mechanical's Project Manager said.

He explained without the equipment, they're having to use larger crews to do the job, specifically when they get close to other utility lines under ground.

"We can completely remove the earth around any of those surfaces very safely and with very minimal chances of damaging those utilities," he explained. "And, without having access to that tool, we're forced to literally hand dig with shovels to expose that."

Parks understands the Mayor's concerns that a lead service line could be overlooked; but he said, even with the hydro-vac tool, his crews were checking both the homeowner's side and street side of the pipe to see if either is made of lead.

"When we take that one tool out of the tool box it just limits the efficiency and productivity that we can have and the safety of the work as well," Parks added.

He said Goyette has submitted documentation to the Mayor's office proving their concerns in an effort to be able to use the equipment again.

The Mayor's Office has not responded to my request for further comment.

In a statement, the MDEQ said: "The State of Michigan is committed to service line replacement in the City of Flint. The one-minute video doesn't provide enough context or details of the situation at this particular excavation site. However, it appears that the portion of the service line that was being worked on was on the city side of the curb stop – this portion of the service line should be accurately reflected in the City's records (as being lead). The DEQ believes that when executed properly, hydro-excavation is an extremely effective and reliable method of identifying service line composition. Hydro-excavation does not have to be limited to a singular hole of a limited size. These holes could very easily be expanded in size and have the advantage of being much less disruptive and far more efficient."

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