Some homeowners could pay at least $3,000
By Scott Bellile
After watching the crisis unfold surrounding Flint, Michigan’s contaminated drinking water, the city of New London aims to replace its own lead service lines.
“We monitor for lead all the time,” New London Utilities Manager Steve Thompson told the Press Star last week. “We don’t have any issues, but we need to move forward just to eliminate that liability.”
Thompson said partial and full replacements of 360 lead service lines that bring drinking water into homes could begin in late 2017 and last through 2019. The impacted properties span from the Broad Street railroad tracks to Smith Street but “there is no easy way to make a map,” he said.
“There’s about 2,500 services in town and 300 of them are lead,” Thompson said. “The rest of them are all copper, plastic. The majority of it is copper, but we still have some old lead services.”
Approximately 120 of the 360 lead service lines have been partially replaced at some point – that is, the pipes below the streets owned by New London Utilities were replaced but not the pipes located beneath private property.
The other 240 pipes remain untouched since they were put in.
The impacted property owners will be footing some of the bill because service lines running between the curb and their homes are considered private property.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, while a city is responsible for lead service line replacement beneath public streets, the average private property owner’s expense from the curb to the home would be around $3,000.
Thompson is applying for a $300,000 grant that the Wisconsin DNR is awarding through the $11.8 million Safe Drinking Water Loan Program launched this spring. The $300,000, if the city landed it, must be used toward private property owners’ expenses and not the public end, he said.
The city will spend the coming months exploring how to make the work affordable to residents and devising a payment plan for those who can’t afford a lump sum payment.
“What we can do is a special assessment, just have kind of a blanket special assessment,” New London Public Works Director Jeff Bodoh said at a Sept. 6 Board of Public Works meeting. “People [who] are doing the water service [replacement at their homes], they’d fill out a sheet saying ‘I’ll agree to have my lateral replaced and then have the city bill me back’ either over one payment or a … three- or five-payment system.”
Thompson estimates the project will total $750,000 to $1.2 million.
“It’s a lot of money but we’ve got to take care of it and do it well,” Thompson said.
The project would involve full replacements for the 240 properties that have never been worked on, and finishing out the partial replacements that the remaining 120 properties underwent in the past. That’s because partial replacements are now frowned upon – they run the risk of stirring up mineral deposits and setting lead loose into the water, Thompson said.
According to Wisconsin DNR, lead contamination in tap water can negatively affect people’s IQs and reduce their attention spans.
Lead service lines were phased out of new construction projects around the mid-20th century, but they remain in some areas that were developed before then.