Baraboo enrolls in lead pipe loan program

Lead water pipes continue to be a problem in Wisconsin, and Baraboo is taking action to make it easier for property owners to obtain funds to replace these pipes.

The city unanimously approved a change to the plumbing ordinance on Jan. 10 to reflect the upcoming availability of loans for property owners who want to replace plumbing in their homes and businesses. City Engineer and Interim Administrator Tom Pinion said the loan program, provided through the state's Safe Drinking Water Loan Program, provides a 25 percent principal forgiveness for the city that will be passed on to homeowners.

In addition to forgiveness, the loans also carry interest at a low interest rate of 0.25 percent. The program was established to assist property owners in replacing private lines to connect to the upcoming water and sewer line replacement on the Highway 33 – 8th Avenue corridor through Baraboo.

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“We plan to replace 95 main utility lines, 54 of which will be on the Highway 33 corridor,” Pinion said at the meeting.

The city is responsible for administering the loans, unlike its water utility, which Pinion said is not permitted by the state Public Service Commission to use loan financing on private property. The loans are initially applied for by the energy supplier, but after approval by the state, the city takes over. Pinion said the city will likely charge a small administrative fee for each loan.

“Overall it will be very affordable,” Pinion said.

He estimated the total cost of replacing the plumbing at $8,000 for each property owner, which would result in a repayment of $6,000 that can be paid off over a maximum of 10 years if the property owner enters into a loan agreement. If a city replaces lead pipes on a street, state law and city ordinance require property owners in that corridor to replace similar pipes within 60 days or have their water service shut down.

Pinion said the city is currently seeking private line replacement contract bids to advance potential private projects to connect to the city's upcoming work. There will be a public hearing on the 8th Avenue project and the required pipe replacement during Tuesday's Common Council meeting.

As of 2018, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources grants were available for lead water pipe replacement, but these funds are no longer available. Fees associated with lead pipe replacement loans may also be factored into a property owner's tax bill. Pinion hopes to obtain grants for lead pipe replacement in the near future, particularly to help private property owners.

Pinion said Baraboo is the first city in Wisconsin to participate in the recently revamped Lead Line loan program. Pinion added that the original program contained regulations that discouraged communities from getting involved.

He said DNR grants have helped the city replace many of the former lead pipes in recent years. Pinion said lead has not been a serious problem in Baraboo's water supply. The city has a maximum of 800 combined public and private lead water pipes, has replaced about 200 and plans to replace another 100 in 2024, according to Pinion.

Do I have lead pipes?

Lead pipes are gray and soft and appear shiny when scratched. Magnets don't stick to it and tapping it with another metal object produces a dull sound instead of a ringing sound. Silver pipes with magnetic attraction are made of steel.

Reporter John Gittings can be reached by phone at (920) 210-4695.

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