Ann Arbor approves $1.2 million contract increase for water service line replacement

ANN ARBOR, MI – The Ann Arbor City Council approved a $1.2 million contract increase to replace home water service lines that are connected to lead parts or may have been in the past.

The project must start this year as a result of Michigan’s Lead and Copper rules.

The contract increase was approved at the council’s regular meeting on Monday, Feb.1 where Council Member Travis Radina questioned what factors went into the dramatic increase of $1.2 million, bringing the total contract amount to $1.5 million, an increase of about 359 percent.

“I guess I was trying to just get a little bit better of a sense as to why the initial project was so much lower than what is being asked to approve of now,” Radina said.

As stated in Michigan’s Lead and Copper rules, cities must replace five percent of galvanized lines a year based on their inventory. Currently, Ann Arbor’s inventory is based off of verified service lines that have to be replaced plus unverified service lines, said Public Works Manager Molly Maciejewski. The current number for their inventory is 4,759, meaning that they must replace 238 service lines this year alone at $6,000 a piece. Once all service lines are verified, the number is expected to go down as they verify which ones don’t need replacing, she said.

The Michigan Lead and Copper rules were finalized in 2019 in the wake of the Flint water crisis where lead leached into the city’s water supply from old pipes.

At that time, Ann Arbor decided to be proactive and bid out a soft start of the replacements, said Maciejewski.

The city has not gone into homes to do replacements like this before and they needed to secure a contractor who could work well with customers and at a satisfactory rate of performance, Maciejewski said. The contractor must be able to replace five percent of galvanized service lines a year, as expected by the state.

A low dollar amount contract was granted to Lang Constructors, and was renewed this year as a result of their satisfactory performance.

“We didn’t know exactly how much we needed for the contract increase, or we had anticipated it to be lower,” Maciejewski said. “The five percent per year that we’re required to replace is based on our service line inventory, and as Council Member (Ali) Ramlawi talked about, we’re in the middle of a meter replacement project, and as part of that we’re verifying all of our service lines in the city so that we can get a good count and have an accurate five percent number to work from.”

The meter replacement project was delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and did not start until the summer, according to Maciejewski. As a result of the delay, council held off on asking for the increase until now, having a better idea of the numbers they are dealing with.

Other cities such as Flint have also struggled with replacing contaminated pipes during the pandemic, and had to shut down their operations back in April to mitigate the spread of the virus. More than 9,700 lines made of lead or galvanized steel have been removed and replaced after the excavations in Flint, and fewer than 500 service lines were left to be checked as of early December 2020.

Flint stops pipeline replacements to mitigate spreading coronavirus

Maciejewski hopes to have the meter replacement project completed by early 2022, as long as there are no more delays from the pandemic, and have an accurate service line inventory to base their mandatory five percent per year completion rate off of. With a more accurate count, they expect the number of service line replacements to go down as they confirm service lines that are not connected to lead.

The city is required to have an accurate inventory by 2025, and be completed with all replacements by 2040. There are an estimated 500,000 galvanized lines in water systems across the state.

The Lead and Copper rules enforced by Michigan are the strongest protections in the United States against lead in drinking water, putting Michigan on track to steadily reduce and ultimately eliminate lead drinking water pipes.

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