FLINT, MI — The city has preliminary approval to use pressurized water to locate buried service lines in an area where American Indian ancestral remains have been discovered in the past, the state Department of Environmental Quality says.
The DEQ issued its initial finding of no significant impact for the work last week and detailed basic guidelines for contractors working in the archeological zone bordered by Hamilton Avenue on the north, Court Street on the south, Saginaw Street to the east and Dupont Street to west.
In addition to having a professional archaeologist on site to monitor the work, the process of excavating with hydrovac equipment may need to be slowed in the area “to allow the archaeologist to get a good view of the hole as it progresses, and in the process, have an opportunity to recognize any cultural or human remains that may be exposed,” the report says.
“The proposed project will work towards providing Flint a reliable distribution system,” the report says. “The short-term, minor construction impacts are outweighed by the improvements to Flint’s water distribution system and the reduced threat to public health.”
Flint contractors began using hydrovac equipment last year to help identify homes with lead or galvanized service lines, which are being removed because they were compromised by corrosive water used by the city in parts of 2014 and 2015.
Using water pressure and vacuum suction, the hydrovac process allows crews to determine what lines are made of without having to dig up a larger area to discover the composition of the lines.
Copper service lines are not being replaced because they don’t pose the risk of future lead releases to the water supply.
Flint is entering into the second full year of service line replacements and officials estimate they have up to 12,000 galvanized and lead lines still in the ground.
Last year, underground work in the archeological zone was set aside and officials acknowledged the potential for disturbing Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe burial sites and cemeteries.
In 2007, a construction crew found human remains in the Stone Street area — evidence that the area was likely a cemetery used for hundreds of years.
In 2010, the remains of 67 American Indian ancestors were laid to rest in a reburial at the same site.
Whether contract crews will encounter additional remains isn’t clear, said State Archaeologist Dean Anderson of the State Historic Preservation Office.
“Clearly we know there were human remains found in that area,” Anderson said. “It is so hard to know” whether workers will encounter more.
There are standard operating procedures if a discovery is made, he said.
Alan Wong, senior program manager for the Flint Action and Sustainability Team, said a pre-bid meeting for potential hydrovac contractors was held Feb. 7 at City Hall.
A bid opening is scheduled for Friday, February 16, Wong said in an email statement, and work is expected to start in early March, weather permitting.