Elgin hires consultant to look at lead pipes on private property
Elgin is putting on hold all water main replacement projects scheduled in 2018 because of uncertainty about regulation of lead service lines on private property.
Instead, the city is hiring Engineering Enterprises Inc. at a cost of $48,000 to research ownership of lead service lines (there are an estimated 11,000 commercial and residential properties with such lines), funding options to pay for replacement, and any hazards associated with doing the work. The city council on Wednesday endorsed the plan, proposed by City Manager Rick Kozal.
The projects on hold include Lord Street's combined sewer separation at $3.4 million, work along Chicago Street at $7.9 million and neighborhood street rehabilitation at $3 million.
Elgin's practice since the 1990s has been to replace the city's portion of lead service lines -- but not lead service lines on private property -- when there are water main replacement projects. The projects on hold would affect an estimated 250 structures with lead pipes on private property.
Preliminary estimates show the cost of replacing lead service lines on private property would be $3,000 to $10,000 per property, but whether the city will pay for that remains to be seen, based on state legislation and any city council decisions.
Funds already allocated to the 2018 projects will be carried over to 2019, Kozal said.
Councilman Terry Gavin said he was concerned about holding up big projects, particularly the one on Chicago Street.
Kozal said this year there will still be some aboveground preliminary work on Chicago Street, such as ComEd's relocation of electricity poles. Engineering Enterprises is expected to present its findings to the city council in the fall, so the city can request bids for the project in November, Kozal said.
Earlier this year, state Sen. Heather Steans of Chicago introduced Senate Bill 3080, which would have mandated municipalities to create a plan within a year to replace all lead water service lines -- public and private -- within 10 years. After amendments, the bill would require municipalities to, within two years, come up with a plan with a reasonable timeline.
Elgin can satisfy that requirement with the work done by Engineering Enterprises, Kozal said.
"I'm glad to see that we are staying ahead of this," Councilman John Steffen said.
Kozal said the Illinois Department of Public Health intervened last year in a water main replacement project in Geneva, saying the city needed to replace the portion of the water service line on private property.
Geneva spokesman Kevin Stahr refused to say Wednesday whether the city went ahead with that project.
Public health spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said the department "is not saying municipalities are responsible for replacing the entire water service line. What IDPH is saying is that the entire lead service line should be replaced, not just part of it, regardless of who does it or pays for it."
That's because partial replacement of a lead service line results in lead-contaminated drinking water as particles come loose.
The health department has advised water utility companies and municipalities of that, Arnold said. Geneva reported that it still partially replaced lead service lines, but provided filters to water customers to remove lead from their drinking water, she said.
Elgin last year started distributing bilingual door hangers and brochures addressing concerns about lead in the water during construction projects, advising faucets can be run for five minutes as per Environmental Protection Agency recommendations.
Kozal said there are regulatory conflicts between the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which, along with its federal counterpart, has had jurisdiction over water drinking standards, and IDPH, which has some authority to mitigate lead hazards in residences.
"The city did not want to move forward with the water main replacement projects until it was certain of the regulatory environment related to the private service line replacements," Kozal said.
Arnold said the IDPH has jurisdiction over plumbing. "Both IEPA and IDPH agree that partial lead line replacement can cause lead in the pipes to be disturbed and contaminate water being delivered to homes which people drink," she said.
• Daily Herald staff writer Susan Sarkauskas contributed to this story.