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Grant would accelerate city’s program to replace galvanized water connections

By Ralph Echtinaw

City councilmen put $36,700 on the table and rolled the dice Tuesday in hope of winning a $3 million grant to replace about 500 lead and galvanized water service connections.

The $36,700 goes to Spicer Group, a civil engineering firm that will create a plan to locate and replace lead and galvanized pipes connecting homes and businesses to city water.

City officials and Spicer are racing to meet a July 1 application deadline for a grant of up to $3 million from the Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy.

“We’re gonna have to work hard together to meet these deadlines,” said Spicer official Don Scherzer.

“I’ll make sure to have it done. I promise,” said Project Manager Max Clever.

The plan that Spicer engineers will produce is a prerequisite to getting a grant, but there is no guarantee that a plan will result in a grant.

“It’s a good chance to roll the dice to maybe get $3 million of work done for free,” Scherzer said. “This is work you’re going to have to do sooner or later anyway. If you don’t take the risk I guarantee you won’t get the money.”

There isn’t a lot of time left to get everything done before the July 1 filing deadline, as 30 days of public notice is required. And the state wants 60 days to review the plans.

Scherzer said the city won’t learn if it wins the grant until September or October. Construction bids would be let in April, May, or June next year. Work would start in August or September next year.

Much of this work depends on the outcome of another grant request that would provide $637,675 for identifying lead and galvanized service connections. However, the state received 301 applications requesting $137 million in connection with this grant, and only $37 million is available.

The state was supposed to announce winners of these grants March 15, but has not said a word yet, according to Public Services Director Keith Risdon, who believes the announcement will come next week.

No matter how the grant requests turn out, the city is obligated to locate and identify lead and galvanized water service lines by Jan. 1, 2025. “Without the grant we will need to distribute the workload across the next three and a half years,” Risdon said via email.

Starting this year the city is required by law to replace five percent of known lead service leads per year and must finish the job within 20 years.

“The City has since 1995 been replacing lead service lines that were identified on the historical service records at the Water Department,” Risdon said. “In 2016 the city entered into a contract with Ward’s Excavating to replace the last known lead service lines during that construction season. Approximately 47 service lines, mostly having lead ‘jumper’ connections, were replaced with that project. The city has also installed new copper water services on reconstruction and utility projects in 2017, 2019, and 2020.”

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