FLINT — Officials say the Karegnondi water pipeline is ahead of schedule and a water treatment plant, which is part of the project, is expected to be finished this spring.
But there are still some hurdles to be crossed in the months ahead.
At a recent meeting of the Genesee County Water and Waste Services advisory committee, Drain Commission Director Jeff Wright said their goal is to have the water treatment plant up and running by late April or early May – depending on weather.
Following that, in October the commission hopes to have water coming into the plant for distribution, but this is dependent on the federal Environmental Protection Agency and any requirements it may impose on the state and city before initiating fulltime operation.
“The EPA and the State of Michigan may require us to jump through extra hoops,” said Wright at last month’s commission meeting. “There is no doubt in my mind that Flint will not be ready come October.”
Wright cited The Camp, Dresser & McKee report, which said it will take $105 million and three years to upgrade Flint’s plant. Over this threeyear period, Flint would need to stay on the current 72 inch pipeline, while the $105 million replaces everything in the plant.”
Officials said there wasn’t a cost benefit analysis done, the purpose of this is to make the plant easy to operate. With this proposal, the city of Flint would be essentially throwing away more than $50 million over 15 years.
Wright said a good comparison is this $105 million to get a 24 million gallon a day (mgd) plant over a 36 month period versus the physical plant’s cost of only $62 million to get 30 mgd over a 24 month period.
“We will be coming up with some options for the next meeting on getting off of the 72 inch pipeline, while Flint stays on it,” said Wright. “The last thing I want to do, and I know you don’t, is continue to pay Detroit/GLWA (Great Lakes Water Authority) another $75 million to purchase water over the next three years.”
The question was asked at the meeting if there is a way to isolate the pipeline, where its not being used, and then continue to bypass.
Unfortunately there is not, said Wright.
“There will be three options when it comes to this section of pipeline. First, we stay on with Detroit/GLWA, because currently there is no other pipe that can give us their water,” said Wright. “The second option is to continue to take water and not pay. Detroit/GLWA would not be able to shut us off because they would then have to shut Flint off.”
Wright warned this option would end up in court, but he thinks the water authority would prevail. The cost of such a fight, however, would be few million dollars to fight it.
“Third option, we build a bypass pipeline. The construction of a bypass line is roughly 25-35 percent of what it would cost to stay with Detroit/GL WA the next three years,” he said. “Backing up for the newer members, our original plan was to construct a line parallel to Flint’s 72-inch line, at that time Flint decided they no longer had use of that pipeline and sold it to us for $3.9 million. The estimated cost of a new pipeline was $12.5 million.”
If the commission decides to build the 6.5 mile bypass, it would have to pick an engineering firm, design the project, bid it out and have the pipeline constructed and operational by the end of the year, said Wright.
The approximately 6.5 mile bypass would also depend on how the commission handles going through the city of Davison without conflicting with its infrastructure.
If the bypass was constructed, the city of Flint would be able to stay on GLWA for as Jong as they want to.
“To clarify, if this bypass were constructed, the city of Flint would still be obligated to pay their portion of the $7 million bond payment, that amount is not the cost to purchase water, but for the extra capacity built into the pipe, the pumps, and the motors,” said Wright. “Worst case scenario, if we are required to pay 100-percent of the $12.5 million for the bypass line, it equals out to about $2 per month per average customer.