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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Kenosha Hopes New Financial Formula Will Speed Up Replacement of Lead Pipes

Curt Czarnecki, P.E., Kenosha Water Utility

The Kenosha Common Council recently passed an ordinance that requires homeowners to replace their lead laterals when the city initiates a project. Because this can be expensive, Kenosha aims to set up a grant and loan system to help homeowners.

Water utility manager Ed St. Peter has been working on the idea for a while, saying he wants to expeditiously replace every inch of the city’s 8,800 lead lines that connect homes to water mains.

The city owns the pipe from the water main to the property line; while the homeowner is responsible from the property line to the building.

Without dramatic change that goal would be quixotic – you know, like Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

Credit Susan Bence
Kenosha water utility general manager Ed St. Peter

St. Peter says although the city can more easily come up with the funds to remove its side of the lead laterals, it’s not so easy for homeowners.

“The current laws allow us to finance through our rates to replace our portion, but the private side portion we have no authority to change and people typically don’t want to pay the cost to replace the private side,” he says.

So St. Peter hopes to use a new Wisconsin law, called the Lead on Lead Act. It allows a community to set up a grant and loan system to help homeowners finance lead-free pipes.

If the state Public Service Commission approves the plan, St. Peter’s says Kenosha would set up “a 50% grant and then we’re allowing up to a 50% loan paid over 10 years – a low-interest loan, my guess would be around 3 percent."

St. Peter says that might add up to $17 to $18 a month for a household to get the job done.

READ: Wauwatosa: One Of Many Wisconsin Communities Grappling With Lead In Water

With the ordinance in place and if the PSC okays the financing plan, Kenosha families could start applying to get on the priority replacement list and be first in line to sign up for the grant/loan package.

Households with leaking lead laterals – on either the city or property owner side - come first, followed by, “properties with licensed child care centers or schools; properties where children under the age of 7 or pregnant women reside and finally, for all remaining properties within our service area,” St Peter explains.

Credit Curt Czarnecki, P.E., Kenosha Water Utility

Kenosha would roll out the program in two-month increments. "Then we will notify the customers again and eventually people that are on the bottom of the list will move up. I’m hoping there’s a glut, I really do, of requests.”

St. Peter hopes Kenosha's lead infrastruct will be completely replaced in 10 to 20 years.

He thinks considering the number of lead pipes in the region - Milwaukee, Wauwatosa, Racine, the list goes on – their replacement could be a job generator. “If I had a business that did that kind of work – a general contractor or a plumbing contractor – I would personally consider putting another crew that did just that, learning the techniques, getting the equipment. Yes, I think it could create a lot of jobs,” St Peter adds, “And we’re talking long-term."

Water utilities throughout Wisconsin are watching to see if St. Peter’s plan works. Kenosha is the first community applying for PSC approval to implement a grant/loan financing program.

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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