City-funded program targets lead water pipes

Port will tap into state program to pay for replacement of services leading to about 881 houses over 30 years
By 
KRIS HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

The Port Washington Board of Public Works on Tuesday approved a city-funded program to remove lead pipes leading from the streets into an estimated 881 houses in the community.

The program will kick off this year with the city replacing lead services to an estimated 25 houses using $205,000 from the Department of Natural Resources’ Safe Drinking Water program.

The houses where the pipes are to be replaced this year include five homes on North Park Street, where street work is being done, Rob Vanden Noven, the city’s director of public works, said.

Homeowners living on Larabee, Harrison, Milwaukee, Dodge and Walters streets, where roadwork was done in 2017, will be able to sign up for the program, Vanden Noven said, adding the remaining properties for this year’s project will be selected from these.

Those areas were selected because the laterals leading from the street to the properties are not lead, he noted.

The city has not decided exactly how the program will operate this year, Vanden Noven said. The city may hire a contractor to do the service replacements or it may opt to vet contractors and allow homeowners to hire from that list, with the city picking up the tab.

The city is also talking to its road contractor, PTS Contractors, to see if it will do the work and at what cost.

“We’re still looking at it,” Vanden Noven said.

“We want to get the lowest price because we want the money to go as far as possible.”

If the cost is low enough, he added, “We may be able to accommodate more than 25 (properties) this year,. We anticipate getting more money next year, so these homeowners will be placed on a list for next year.

“We hope this is a program that’s going to be embraced.”

Ald. John Sigwart, a member of the board, asked if the city’s crews could do the work.

“That would be too much,” Vanden Noven said.

Tom Nennig of City Water, which is helping run the water utility, said this year’s program will help develop a long-term program that will eventually rid the city of lead pipes.

“We want to use this year as a pilot,” he said.

But because homes in the city are estimated to have 881 private lead laterals and there are another 635 lead laterals in the streets, it will likely take years to eliminate them.

In addition to lead pipes, the program would also apply to galvanized steel pipes.

The program would be voluntary, Nennig said.

“We’re not going to be strong-arming people to replace their services,” he said, adding that when revised rules regarding lead and copper pipes go into effect in 2024, the initiative will be part of the program.

However, both Nennig and Vanden Noven stressed that the program will not run if there are not enough city, state or federal funds to cover the cost.

“We wouldn’t force anyone into it without money from the government to pay for it,” Vanden Noven said.

Vanden Noven said the city is working to better identify which houses have lead service. Those most likely to have them were built before 1950.

Congress banned the use of lead service laterals in 1986, he noted.

Homeowners can check the type of service they have by looking at the pipe where it comes through the basement wall, Vanden Noven said. If it is metallic grey and magnetic, it is galvanized steel and if it is shiny but non-magnetic, it is lead. Both need to be replaced, he said. Copper and plastic pipes don’t need to be replaced.

The board also asked the Common Council to approve an ordinance formalizing the program, with a provision that the law only apply when there are government funds to pay for it.

Passage of the ordinance and approval of the program will help the city qualify for additional funding, Vanden Noven added.

The Common Council is expected to consider the proposed ordinance when it meets next month.

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