Elgin saves $1.2M on residential lead pipe removal work thanks to contractor finding more efficiencies – Chicago Tribune

Elgin saved $1.2 million on its 2023 contract to replace lead water pipes. That money will be put back into the city's ongoing efforts to remove the pipes from about 10,000 homes, officials said.

The city had expected to pay Five Star Energy Services $4.9 million to replace lines to 434 properties under its 2023 Lead Service Line Replacement (LSLR) program, but the final cost was $3.6 million.

Part of the savings came because workers discovered that many of the city's public utility lines are already made of copper, so the street didn't have to be torn up to replace the lines to people's homes, said Water Director Nora Bertam.

Another factor is that as construction crews gained more experience in replacing pipes, they became more efficient, meaning fewer hours of work were required to complete the job, Bertram said.

“It's always nice to hear that the city has saved money on a construction project in these inflationary times, especially when it's a seven-figure savings,” said City Manager Rick Kozal.

Of the 30,000 water pipes in Elgin – the pipes that connect homes to the city’s water supply – about 10,000 contain lead.

This illustration shows how the public water line connects to a home's private water line. Both lines may be made of lead and need to be replaced with copper. The City of Elgin has a program to replace lead lines in 384 homes each year. (Illinois Department of Environmental Protection)

So far, 1,659 lines have been replaced, and the city has a long-term plan to remove the rest, Kozal said.

Work on the 2024 replacement program will begin in July. This year, the city expects to replace about 384 lines. Funding for this year and subsequent years will come from a $5 million low-interest loan from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the city's sale of $10 million in bonds, and now savings from the 2023 program.

If all goes according to plan, Elgin will complete about 384 replacements annually until all of the lead pipes in the city are removed.

“The city is very proud of its lead service efforts and took action to remove lead service lines two years before current state legislation,” Kozal said. “Public information shows that Elgin leads all Illinois municipalities in removing lead service lines.”

Congress banned the use of lead water pipes in 1986, but most of the previously installed pipes were never removed, according to an IEPA report released in 2023. At the time the report was released, it was estimated that between 686,000 and 1,040,000 lead service lines in Illinois still needed to be replaced.

City officials stressed that the city's drinking water does not contain lead, but homes and other buildings built before 1986 may have lead pipes. The lead is trapped in the pipes by sediment, so it should not get into the drinking water unless there is a disruption in the pipes, such as a nearby underground construction site or some other type of disruption.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, lead can pose a health threat to adults and children if ingested, causing problems such as brain damage and behavioral disorders.

Elgin launched its replacement program in 2018, two years before state lawmakers required municipalities to develop programs to address the problem and replace public and private lines at no cost to property owners.

The city began replacing copper with lead in public utility lines in all road construction projects in the 1980s, Bertam said.

However, because no records are kept of which public water supply lines were replaced, contractors would now first have to drill an observation hole in the greenway or tree bank to determine whether the public water supply line is a lead or copper line, she said.

If both the city's line and the homeowner's line are made of lead, the city must cut a rectangular hole in the street and additionally secure an easement on the private property so that both can be replaced. However, if the city's line is already made of copper, only the private side needs to be taken out.

Gloria Casas is a freelance reporter for The Courier-News.

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