Lead service lines have been overlooked in some Flint homes

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FLINT (WJRT) - (08/09/18) - The City of Flint says some homes that need service line replacements may have been overlooked even after crews dug up ground outside their homes.

Mayor Karen Weaver blames the oversight on a digging tool, hydro vac excavation, that she has since banned workers from using despite calls from some contractors to put the tool back in play.

Thursday, the mayor doubled down on her position while other contractors backed up her concerns.

"You know, I have another five homes on this quick list that are in the fifth ward. I have one in the fourth ward. There's another in the ninth ward, and I think that was the 'happy accident' that you all talked about," Weaver said.

She listed some of the areas that have been brought to her attention as being overlooked. And that so-called 'happy accident' was discovered by WT Stevens Construction at a home that had reportedly been checked for bad service lines, but crews later made a troubling and harmful discovery.

"We ended up going behind a house that was hydro vacced and they had put it on the cards as copper to copper, and one of our guys dug back and we found lead within another foot. It was even less than that," said master plumber Max Elsner.

Elsner said the only way to tell what's really there is to get down and dig with a shovel, at least four feet on either side of the pipe, something he says the hydro vac doesn't do.

The mayor named several homes that have been affected, but ABC12 has requested a more formal account of which homes were overlooked. When that is received we will update this story.

On the other hand, some contractors say that not being able to use the hydro vac tool is slowing down their progress and costing them more money. They also say the tool does more than just identify lead pipes.

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

"We haven't gone over budget on any of this, and the other thing is, that's what got us in trouble the first time, paying so much attention to the dollar, and putting dollars over the public health and well-being of the people," Weaver said.

The city is approaching the end of the second year of a three-year project to replace 22,000 lead and galvanized water service lines throughout the city. Their goal is to complete at least 6,000 service lines by the fall. According to data from the city, there have been 3,957 explorations (assessments of pipe conditions at homes) so far this year. Of those, 628 pipes have needed replacing as of August 2. The city is on task to complete the remaining 2,043 pipes for this year by mid-September.

"That's one thing for the construction companies and the contractors to talk about, you know, the hydro vaccing and the 2-foot rule. That speaks to dollars. We're talking about the concern of our residents. That speaks to the heart of the people in this community," said Jeff Grayer, WT Stevens owner.

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