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Despite weather delays, state says Benton Harbor water-line replacement project is on track

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has committed to having all of the city's lead service lines removed and replaced within an 18-month timeline
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Posted at 7:47 PM, Jan 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-15 19:47:53-05

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — The state agencies tasked with removing and replacing all of the lead service lines in the city of Benton Harbor say they are on track to meet their 18-month timeline, despite some initial delays caused by winter weather.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer committed in October to having all of the lead lines in the city replaced by spring of 2023, after a swell of efforts from activists on the ground over the past several years.

They have already replaced roughly 400 pipes, with 3,900 to go.

FOX 17 spoke to Rev. Edward Pinkney last week regarding his concerns over the pace of the project.

Saying last Friday, "At the rate they're going now, it might take them two to three years."

READ MORE: 'Slow, extremely slow': Advocates push to keep Benton Harbor water line replacements on track

Reverend Pinkney heads up the Benton Harbor Community Water Council, a group that has been advocating for state action for over the past two and a half years.

The group identified lead in the city's tap water several years ago, but only months ago did the state officially acknowledge that their water may be unsafe to drink or use.

Hugh McDiarmid Jr. with EGLE, the agency tasked with the replacement project, tells FOX 17 that there have been some initial delays due to inclement weather.

"I had a conversation with the contractors a few days ago, and they indicated that yeah, they had some severe storm warnings and some heavy snowfall, and then some really bitter cold... and that slowed them down a little bit.”

There is currently only one company working on the lines: Benton Harbor-based Don Meeks Construction.

“The good news is that the city is currently reviewing contract bids for the remainder of the work, and they expect to hire somewhere between four and six contractors,” McDiarmid said Friday.

He expects work to pick up substantially in the coming months.

“Those contractors are expected to begin work in March of this year. At that point, I think Benton Harbor residents will see an awful lot of work going on.”

Until the roughly 4,000 service lines are replaced, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) will continue to distribute cases of bottled water to anyone living in Benton Harbor.

“Not sure exactly how long the water will go, but the goal is to keep the water flowing as long as it's needed,” said Regina Strong with MDHHS.

The state is also holding an event on Jan. 19 where residents can have their blood drawn and tested for lead levels free of cost. That is happening from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m. at the Tri-County Head Start Discovery Enrichment Center at 465 South McCord Street.

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READ MORE: Benton Harbor residents: Pick up bottled water at these locations (Jan. 15–24)

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