Benton Harbor’s lead lines start coming out

Health

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. (WOOD) — In Benton Harbor’s bid to end a water crisis, crews yanked out the first section of lead service line early Monday afternoon — a 3-foot-long poisonous pipe that had been underground for about a century.

It didn’t come easily. It started with a saw cutting through the road, then a backhoe, then hand shovels.

Then a broken water service line. That was not supposed to happen.

“Rough start; not too rough,” said Donnie Meeks, owner of the contractor that is removing the first 100 lead service lines under a federal grant.

A shower sprayed passing cars before crews could cap it off.

“Well, usually, we don’t sever the line but, yeah, it happens sometimes,” Meeks said.

Meeks’ company got the contract, funded by part of a $5.6 million U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant, to remove the first 100 suspected lead service lines by April.

On Monday, they started at just one home on Ogden Avenue. They started there because the service line to the home was already leaking. It took several hours for contractors to reach the line.

Crews also dug by hand, sometimes up to 6 feet deep, to confirm that service lines leading to other homes were, indeed, made of lead. Most were.

“Thursday, there will be three crews out,” Meeks said. “By next week, we should have four to five.”

“We’re trying to be done early,” he continued. “The faster we get (the lead) out, get (copper lines) in, the faster we get the customers cleaner water.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has vowed to replace all of Benton Harbor’s lead service lines within 18 months at a cost to the state of nearly $20 million.

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