'This will be an expense': Elgin property owners not happy about lead pipe program
The first property owners in Elgin affected by the city's new lead water service pipe replacement program are -- perhaps expectedly -- not happy about it.
Starting this year, when the city does underground construction work, nearby property owners will have to replace lead pipes on their properties -- work that city officials estimate will cost no more than $4,800 in the vast majority of cases -- or sign a waiver and commit to drinking bottled or filtered water for two years, plus pay for an estimated $1,000 for testing over two years.
The largest construction project this year will be the reconstruction of East Chicago Street from Center Street to Route 25, which will include water and sewer work starting in spring through November 2020. It will affect 177 households, including along a portion of Geneva Street south of Chicago Street.
"This is a big deal," said resident Gena McNamara, who was among roughly 45 people who attended an informational meeting Wednesday about the project. "You are expecting us to pay $4,800, but do you live on Chicago Street? Does anybody on the city council live on Chicago Street?"
City Manager Rick Kozal said the measure is in response to directives from the Illinois Department of Public Health and possible legislation coming from Springfield regarding lead pipes. The city treats its water so it's safe to drink even with lead pipes, but construction work can loosen particles that contaminate the water for a period. The new city program "is not an exercise in bureaucratic excess," Kozal said, but an effort to perform necessary construction work without losing $2.5 million in federal grant money.
When the city starts construction work, residents will get a faucet water filter or a filtered water pitcher -- or both, if they want -- along with replacement cartridges for one of the two. The city will replace its own lead service lines, as it does routinely, and determine which private properties have lead service lines. Those property owners will be given three options:
• Hire a plumber of their choice to replace their lead service lines at their own cost.
• Use a plumber approved by the city and get a zero-interest loan of up to $4,800 repayable over five years, or 10 years for low- to moderate-income residents.
• Sign a waiver and commit, for two years, to drinking bottled water or using filtered water, plus pay $1,000 for water testing.
The new program applies only to private lead pipes running from the buffalo box, or b-box, to the water meter, not lead pipes inside homes. Only homes built before 1986, and particularly before 1965, potentially have lead pipes, city officials said.
Residents Larry Jacobsen and Rick Kautz pointed out some properties have unique features. Their b-box is on their neighbor's property, on the other side of a cement wall that will have to be knocked down, they said. Plus, they are both retired seniors living on fixed incomes, they said.
"This will be an expense," Jacobsen said.
Landlords will be required to inform tenants about their plans. Property owners who don't comply with any of the three options, or fail to repay the loan, can get their water shut off.
Resident John Kokoris, who rents an apartment, said he's happy the city is implementing the program. "This is entirely positive for me," he said, because any expense would fall on his landlord.