Second committee takes up lead issue

by Emmitt B. Feldner
of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – The City Council Finance and Personnel Committee was brought into the lead pipe removal conversation Tuesday.

City Administrator Brian Yerges outlined the possibilities for removing lead service laterals in the city for the committee.

It repeated the discussion held earlier by the Public Works and Utilities Committee. Each of the two committees is comprised of half of the council membership, so all council members are up to speed on where the effort stands.

Whatever policy the council ultimately settles on, it would not go into effect until next year, Yerges emphasized.

That’s because the goal would be to integrate any lead lateral replacements with concurrent street work, to make the projects minimally disruptive, he said.

The city has already committed to repaving a section of Reed Street this year, so any program to possibly aid private homeowners who replace lead lines on their property could not be implemented in time, according to Public Works Director Cathy Austin.

That project is going out for bids in the next few weeks, she said. A contract should be awarded later this spring for work that would take place this summer.

The state Department of Natural Resources is urging municipalities and property owners to replace outdated lead pipes as quickly as possible, but they have not mandated it, Yerges said.

The city’s consulting engineers, Kapur and Associates, studied priorities for replacing municipal lead lines. That report listed about 40 street segments, with a total cost of around $22 million.

“These are real dollars and these are real projects,” Yerges told the committee. “We don’t anticipate all of those projects being done in the next 10 years.”

The city has tried to target and budget for one combined street/main project a year, he said, looking at around $1 million or more a year.

The other issue the city needs to address is how, or if, it will offer some kind of financing or assistance for property owners to replace their lead service lines.

The city is responsible for water lines from the middle of the street to the property line, but pipes beyond there to a home or building are the property owner’s responsibility.

Yerges said recently-enacted state legislation allows for either city loans to property owners that would be repaid through an added assessment on the property tax bill or a grant and/ or loan program through Plymouth Utilities.

He noted that Sheboygan Falls has adopted the loan/special assessment approach.

Doing that requires establishing a length of repayment and setting an interest rate, Yerges said.

“I’m not aware of any community that’s doing the grant program yet,” he added.

Money to fund a grant program would require an added fee on the water bill, at different rates for different classes of users.

One potential drawback to such a plan, Yerges said, would be that homeowners who do not have to replace lead lines could end up subsidizing in part those who do have to replace them.

Those questions, and more, will have to be answered by the council. “It’s up to the council to drive policy,” Yerges stated.

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