Pipeline excavation work in Flint.

Flint, MI–After pushing back the deadline for its lead service line replacement project several times, the City of Flint has tentatively agreed to meet an Aug. 1, 2023 target date and provide weekly updates on the project’s excavation and replacement work.

According to court documents, these requirements were presented in a Nov. 1 motion regarding the City’s compliance with a 2017 settlement agreement that required Flint to replace all lead water service lines to homes.

That settlement resolved a lawsuit filed by Concerned Pastors for Local Action, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Melissa Mays against the State of Michigan and the City of Flint for exposing Flint residents to contaminated drinking water.

In the original agreement, the city was required to complete all lead water service line replacement work by Jan. 1, 2020. However, that deadline was gradually pushed further and further back due to financing and management concerns—first to 2021, then 2022, and now Aug. 1, 2023.

In an email to Flint Beat, Mays expressed disappointment with the project’s seeming lack of progress under Mayor Sheldon Neeley’s administration.

“The lead service line replacement program was supposed to be completed in 2020 but Mayor Neeley had put a stop to the work in March 2020,” Mays said. “This year, work wasn’t started until after Labor Day, so there are thousands of properties waiting for excavation, replacement and/or restoration, which is frustrating.”

Despite the project’s pause, which the City attributed to reducing the spread of COVID-19, Neeley announced that the project was over 90 percent complete by August 2020. But, by Nov. 2, 2022, the city said the work had progressed just another 5 percent, leaving “approximately 1,000 addresses” still to be excavated.

In their most recent motion to enforce the settlement, Mays and her fellow plaintiffs said they needed weekly updates from the city to ensure that it meets its newest deadline, “especially given the City’s slow pace of work” in recent years.

“More than five years ago, the City agreed to replace Flint’s lead service lines within three years,” the motion reads. “Plaintiffs and Flint residents have waited long enough for the City to finish the job.”

Volunteers hand out water to Flint residents on Aug. 11, 2020. The church has been offering the giveaway every Tuesday since 2016. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Should the motion be granted, the City would be required to meet several new deadlines, including completing all lead service line excavations and replacements, excluding restorations, by Aug. 1, 2023; proposing a revised deadline to complete restorations of the ground at previously excavated addresses by May 8, 2023; and completing restorations within 120 days of each excavation and replacement.

The City would also be required to provide the plaintiffs with weekly updates on its progress, including the addresses where excavations and replacements were completed and the number of replacements and excavations scheduled for the coming week, among other things.

The motion also requires that the City of Flint document completed restorations either by a contemporaneous record or by visual inspection and photo documentation.

United States District Court Case Manager Susan Pinkowski told Flint Beat that the court has not approved the motion to enforce these requirements as of Nov. 30. However, the City has already tentatively agreed to them.

According to court documents, Flint City Council will vote on formally approving the amended agreement at a future meeting, and in the meantime the City announced in a Nov. 2 press release that it will centralize the project’s management under a single team for better reporting.

“Enhanced data collection and tracking procedures allow the City to prepare weekly reports on replacement progress and share that information among its partners,” the release stated. “Those reports are now being provided to NRDC on an ongoing basis.”

Residents with lead water service lines may still request replacements by submitting forms on the City of Flint website.

To qualify for replacement, residents must have a lead water service line and an active water meter account with the City of Flint, but they do not need to be up to date on their payments.

Zachary Marano is Flint Beat’s local government reporter. Zack is originally from Milford township and returns to southeast Michigan after reporting for a daily newspaper in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula....

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