The Daily Caller published a story Sunday that outlines what looks like local corruption in the handling of the re-piping effort in Flint, Michigan. At issue is a company called WT Stevens which, despite having no relevant experience, received millions for digging up people’s yards to find out if they had lead pipes. As the DC reports, most of that digging wasn’t necessary because academics had put together a model that predicted where the lead pipes would be with 94% accuracy. But the company in charge of identifying the lead pipes decided not to use it:
The work consists of two parts: digging holes to find out whether a home has lead and replacing the pipes if so.
The first question is largely answered by a predictive model developed by the University of Michigan that identified locations with lead pipes with 94 percent accuracy. But the engineering firm hired by the city to oversee the water contractors, AECOM, didn’t use it, according to The Flint Journal.
Meeting minutes show that AECOM oversaw the digging of nearly 12,000 sites, but only 1,738 actually had lead pipes — a hit rate of 15 percent, The Flint Journal reported. The city paid AECOM $6.1 million.
WT Stevens was told to focus on the homes with lead pipes rather than digging explatory holes. They were even told they wouldn’t be given any more addresses until they had cleaned up the lead pipes they had already identified. And that’s when the mayor’s adviser stepped in:
But the mayor’s chief adviser, Aonie Gilcreast, said “that AECOM should not wait until WT Stevens was finished with the replacements that they have been issued before giving them more addresses,” according to the minutes. “He stated that AECOM would have trouble out of him if they didn’t issue WT Stevens more addresses.”
When the Caller contacted the mayor’s office to ask his spokesperson questions about this, someone who had been lurking on the line “began shouting and accusing this reporter of giving a ‘bogus name’.” When asked what his name was, the person said it was “Jesse Jesse.” A local activist later identified the voice as that of Aonie Gilcreast.
WT Stevens’ competitor for the re-piping work was a company called Goyette Mechanical. Goyette had specialized hydrovac equipment used for digging holes quickly using water pressure combined with a powerful vacuum. Here’s a video of a hydrovac truck operator digging a hole in a matter of minutes (this video is sped up 2x):
Obviously, if you need to dig a lot of test holes to identify the type of pipes people have, something like this would be ideal. And because it had the equipment, Goyette quickly got through its list of homes and was seeking more while WT Stevens, which didn’t have hydrovac equipment still had a backlog. And that’s when the city mysteriously announced hydrovac should not be used. Instead, all companies doing the work would have to dig everything by hand:
Goyette was ready to fix more lead pipes and asked for 500 more addresses, while WT Stevens still had a backlog. [Flint activist Arthur] Woodson told TheDCNF that was the impetus for Gilcreast ordering the engineer to assign more addresses to WT Stevens even though the company still hadn’t finished its existing work.
Then the city banned all contractors from using hydrovac technology, forcing all companies to use the same technology as the one with no relevant experience, Woodson said.
Woodson, the activist, says he can’t prove it but he believes someone must be getting kickbacks from WT Stevens. Why else would a city experiencing a water crisis take steps to make sure the work moves as slowly as possible?
A new company now has the contract to replace lead water pipes. As part of a legal settlement, that company will now use the computer model to focus on homes likely to have lead pipes first.