Workers replace a water service line in Flint, Mich.

Flint, MI– The Flint City Council has again postponed a contract for pipe replacement project management services after officials warned that doing so could cost the city time and money. 

The project to excavate and replace lead and galvanized steel service lines was initially supposed to be completed in 2019 per a settlement agreement between Flint Pastors, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Resources Defense Council against the state of Michigan and the city of Flint. 

That didn’t happen, and the work has since been pushed to 2020, 2021, and 2022.

During their regular city council meeting March 28, the council approved a resolution amending the settlement agreement to extend the deadline to Dec. 31, 2022, but they postponed the contract that officials said was necessary to get the project going.

“If it doesn’t pass, it’s just setting us back further and further,” Department of Public Works Director Mike Brown told the council.

The contract is for $2.9 million for Rowe Professional Services. That amount includes $400,000 for project management for the pipe replacements, and the remainder is for management of the restorations needed after excavations  

So long as the work is completed by the end of this year, the money for this contract is reimbursable through the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) funding. Those funds won’t be available next year, and any costs for the project after this year will be the city’s responsibility. 

Brown stated that there are 2,500 homes in Flint that have not had their service lines checked. Of that amount, he said there are more than 600 people who said they did not want their pipes looked at or touched, and many others the city has tried to get in contact with but couldn’t. 

As for restorations, officials have said there are about 8,500 addresses that still need their yards and sidewalks restored after being excavated. 

“We’re at the end of March, about to go into April, and we don’t still have this process secured that we need to secure to begin,” City Administrator Clyde Edwards said. “That’s a lot of restorations. The summer’s only so long. … Every week we don’t get started, every week we’re delayed, means that less and less of those restorations get done.”

Council President Eric Mays argued that the city could begin the request for proposals (RFP) process for the physical work before the council approves the contract for project management.

“I’m hearing this administration say, ‘We don’t want to dig up and proceed with the pipe replacements and/or inspections without y’all voting on restorations, even though we ain’t given you no details,’” Mays said. “That’s problematic for me.”

Officials said they have already begun drafting an RFP, but need Rowe’s input in selecting a contractor. 

“They have some familiarity with the specs, with the requirements for the contractors,” Edwards said. “So we wanted them involved in the process as we make those selections so that we would get the best qualified people providing the best service to our residents.”

Rowe first entered into a contract with the city of Flint in 2019 in an amount not to exceed $2,138,735, to provide the project management services. In April of 2021, the Flint City Council approved a $500,000 contract extension for Rowe to continue those services, bringing the contract amount up to $2,638,735.

But restorations came to a halt in September of 2021, when Goyette Mechanical, the company completing the restorations, expended all of their funds with several thousand restorations left to do. 

Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter said that with the way the project went last year, she wasn’t sure she wanted Rowe to be on the job. 

“I feel like Rowe didn’t do what they needed to do this last go-round. I think more could have been done,” she said. “More could have got done. So that’s just my feeling. That’s my opinion.”

Brown told the council there were a number of factors related to why the project wasn’t completed in time, including COVID-19 and a lack of cooperation from residents. He said on multiple occasions Lang Constructors, the company doing the pipe replacements, would show up to an appointment and the homeowners would not be there.

“So yes, we could have gotten a lot more done with a little more cooperation. There are things that happened to everybody … to back it up,” Brown said. 

Some council members said that even though they didn’t like that Rowe was going to be getting that much money, they wanted the contract approved so their residents could be taken care of. 

“I personally don’t like it. I think $2.9 million is far too much. But you know, what I also don’t like is how many people have tripped in my neighborhood because their sidewalks aren’t replaced, and it’s gravel,” said Councilwoman Allie Herkenroder. “I don’t like that I keep getting constant emails from people wanting to know when they can use their snowblower because they can’t go snowblow their sidewalk because it’s full of gravel.”

Councilman Quincy Murphy told the council whether the members liked the contract or not, this project needs to get done.

“People are waiting on getting their service line replacements, for the restorations,” Murphy said.  “April 17 is going to be seven years, I think, that we went through this water crisis. People want to get this out the way. So regardless of whether we agree to it or not, this has got to get done.”

But by the time the council got to the vote, the meeting had been going on for about seven hours, and two members, Murphy and Councilwoman Eva Worthing, who had also voiced her support for the contract, had left. With Councilwoman Ladel Lewis and Councilman Dennis Pfeiffer absent, only five members remained. 

The motion to approve the resolution failed with a vote of three yes, one no, and one abstention. Mays voted no, and Winfrey-Carter abstained. Herkenroder, Councilwoman Judy Priestley, and Councilwoman Tonya Burns voted yes.

A motion can be made in future meetings to reconsider the resolution.

Amy Diaz is a journalist hailing from St. Petersburg, FL. She has written for multiple local newspapers in her hometown before becoming a full-time reporter for Flint Beat. When she’s not writing you...