FLINT, MI — A company that has replaced more than 3,000 water service lines for the city is willing to work without hydro excavation equipment but wants to be paid for the extra time it’s taking to do its job.
Goyette Mechanical has formally requested additional pay for past and future service line work from the city because of the time it’s taking to work without hydro excavation equipment.
The issue is separate from an ongoing debate between the city and the state over the safety of using the same type of hydro excavation equipment to identify what material service lines are made of.
The company estimates its service line replacement costs have increased about 8 percent — to about $4,600 — and its exploratory excavation costs have risen almost 9 percent — to about $1,800 — because of the prohibition.
Mayor Karen Weaver stopped that practice in June, and a Goyette official said service line replacement contractors were also told not to use the equipment for locating other buried utility lines that same month.
The city and state of Michigan have been debating the decision not to use hydro excavation to identify what service lines are made of since that time.
The mayor has said hydro excavation resulted in some lead and galvanized pipe having been missed and instead has required contractors dig a minimum of 4 feet on both sides of the curb stop, exposing much more of the service line.
“The mayor is correct that canceling the hydrovac contract was done to protect the health and safety of Flint residents,” Joe Parks, project manager for Goyette, said in an email to MLive-The Flint Journal.
“Unfortunately for us and the other replacement contractors, the mayor’s ban on the use of hydrovac extended to our work. This is a bad decision … We are spending significantly more on labor at every address,” Parks said.
A spokeswoman for the city did not respond to requests for comment from The Journal.
Parks said Goyette has provided the city with a record of the additional costs the prohibition has amounted to — an estimated $100,000 as of this week — but has received no response.
In a July 9 memorandum to Director of Public Works Rob Bincsik and Chief Financial Officer Hughey Newsome, Goyette said it intends to resume use of hydro excavation, which its contract allows for, unless it’s paid more to do the more time-consuming traditional digging.
Goyette is one of five service line contractors working in Flint. It has a $5.6 million contract to replace service lines for the city.
The Journal could not reach other contractors for additional comment.
Martha Brown, founder of Martha Brown Custom Builders of Burt, which was awarded the line identification hydro excavation contract, said she’s been told she’s off that job until further notice.
“They did tell me they had no problem with my work,” Brown said. “They said at this point, they couldn’t take a chance” that lead or galvanized lines could be missed and left in the ground.
The city’s contract with Brown specifies using hydrovac equipment to bore two, 18-inch diameter holes to the service line to determine its composition, but Flint officials have said it’s too easy to miss lines that may have been spliced with such limited visibility.
Crews are removing service lines here because of the potential that they were damaged by corrosive water during the Flint water crisis.
Despite Weaver’s concerns about hydro excavation, state officials have said there is no measurable public health benefit to using traditional excavation to check those lines — only added cost.
The state estimates the additional cost of using traditional excavation all across the city will cost taxpayers an additional roughly $14.6 million.
That estimate does not include any changes to payments to service line contractors like Goyette, which the company says shouldn’t have to bear additional costs.
Last week, Weaver visited service line replacement crews on the job, vowing to continue to use only traditional excavation tools like backhoes and shovels.
In addition to missing lead and galvanized lines that have been spliced with other material, city officials have said they risk breaking utility lines with high-pressure water and vacuum.
“We’re going to … take our time and do it right,” the mayor said during a Facebook broadcast. “I think people’s lives are worth it.”
Parks said he’s received no explanation for not allowing hydrovac equipment for work that doesn’t involve line identification.
Brown said she’s been forced to lay off employees who planned to work on Flint service lines through the fall.
She said she could have changed the process of hydro excavating to expose as much of service lines as the mayor desired.
“All these people are out of work,” she said of people she hired to work in Flint. “They had no place to go … I’m very disappointed (but) I hope this is worked out.”