Resident involvement will be key as Waukegan begins a 20-year state-mandated program to replace the lead pipes that lead to about 8,000 homes and businesses that still have those connections around the city.
Representatives from Robinson Engineering gave a detailed presentation to the Waukegan City Council Monday at City Hall on the 20-year, $80 million lead water supply line replacement program as city leaders prepare to guide the community through the project.
Before construction begins in October on some 400 buildings planned for the first year of the effort, residents are being asked to fill out a survey by mid-July to let the city know if pipes in their home or business are made of lead . Technology will make it relatively easy.
After an Illinois law went into effect on January 1 mandating the state’s municipalities to replace lead piping over the next 20 years, they began implementing plans. Waukegan submitted his proposal to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency on June 2.
Aaron Fundich, CEO of Robinson, who serves as a project consultant for Waukegan, said lead pipe removal is more about health and safety than infrastructure upgrades. The problem arose from the contamination of drinking water in Flint, Michigan in 2014.
“This multi-year project that the city will undertake addresses an important public health issue that is lead in water and is now Illinois state law for municipalities to remediate lead service lines in their communities,” Fundich said.
Diane Moeller, project engineer at Robinson, said that lead in a family’s drinking water can have a serious impact on children because “it impairs cognitive development in children, so the two most important demographic groups are pregnant women and children aged 0 to 6 years .”
Moeller said residents of the buildings identified for the first six years of the project will shortly receive a questionnaire with a QR code to identify which buildings need the new pipe service lines.
According to Moeller, once the survey taker scans the QR code, they’re taken to the city’s website, where the city person can send up to three pictures for an expert to determine if work is needed.
“We’re going to take that information and identify the service line,” Moeller said, referring to the pipe that carries water from the water line into the building. “The resident is not responsible for identifying it themselves.”
People whose property is scheduled for work this year will receive the survey before the end of June, and Moeller said they are asked to complete it by mid-July. A contractor was due to be hired in September, with construction to begin in October. It should be ready by June next year.
Planning for years two to six will also begin soon. Moeller said people living in those areas will receive the survey in October with a request to complete it a month later. With financing plans to be finalized, construction will not begin until December 2023 and be completed the following September.
Waukegan Mayor Ann Taylor said the city’s planning efforts began a few months ago, but now is the time for the community to get more involved. She urged residents to actively participate when the message from City Hall arrives.
“As we all go through this process, you will all be contacted via card,” Taylor said. “This is really happening. So when you get these cards, don’t throw them away and think, ‘I don’t know who that is.’ We present this to give you all the information you need.”
Once a contractor is selected, Moeller said there will be an open house where representatives from the city, the contractor and Robinson will be available to answer questions from the public.
Moeller said buildings built before 1940 most likely have lead piping, while those built in the 1950s and 1960s might. Homes built after 1984 almost certainly don’t. Fundich said homes built after 1986 don’t.
While the project is expected to cost $80 million over 20 years, Jesus Alquicira, the city engineer, said earlier this month that much of the cost will not be borne by the city’s taxpayers. Federal and state funds will fund most of the effort.
Funding for the initial studies and plans came from the $19.7 million the city received from the American Rescue Plan last year. This money is paid for the efforts in the first year. Alquicira said a government program through IEPA to receive forgivable loans of up to $4 million per year for five or more years is expected to cover spending in years two through six.