$8B to $10B plan to re­place lead ser­vice lines be­ing rolled out ‘in the com­ing weeks’

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY FRAN SPIELMAN, CITY HALL RE­PORTER fspiel­man@sun­times.com | @fspiel­man

Mayor Lori Light­foot is putting the fi­nal touches on an $8-bil­lion-to-$10-bil­lion plan to re­place lead ser­vice lines car­ry­ing wa­ter from street mains to roughly 360,000 Chicago homes, top may­oral aides said Tues­day.

Wa­ter Man­age­ment Com­mis­sioner Randy Con­ner and Bud­get Di­rec­tor Susie Park re­fused to say how the mas­sive, multi-year re­place­ment pro­gram would be fi­nanced or how long it might take to elim­i­nate the risk to Chicago’s drink­ing wa­ter.

Nor would they say if home­own­ers would be asked to share the cost of re­plac­ing their lead ser­vice lines — and, if so, at what level.

Con­ner said only that top may­oral aides have scoured the coun­try for ex­am­ples of how other cities have re­placed their lead ser­vice pipes and the city’s pro­gram would be in­formed by other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties’ suc­cesses and mis­takes.

“There’s a few ideas that are out there, but we want to make sure they’re to­tally pack­aged cor­rectly to make sure we get the big­gest bang for our buck and how to present it to our con­stituents,” Con­ner told a vir­tual meet­ing of the City Coun­cil’s Com­mit­tee on Eco­nomic and Cap­i­tal Devel­op­ment.

Wa­ter Man­age­ment spokes­woman Megan Vidis con­firmed the city would an­nounce “in the com­ing weeks” a pro­gram for “lead ser­vice line re­place­ment” that would be “strictly vol­un­tary.” De­tails on fund­ing won’t be made pub­lic un­til then, Vidis said.

Con­ner pro­vided a cost es­ti­mate only un­der pres­sure from com­mit­tee chair­man Ald. Gil­bert Vil­le­gas (36th). Vil­le­gas noted that Philadel­phia, New York and Fort Wayne, Ind. have “insurance pro­grams” where home­own­ers share the cost.

“If I had to do it on the back of an en­ve­lope, chair­man, it would prob­a­bly be some­where be­tween $8 bil­lion and $10 bil­lion for … Chicago. And that’s to­day. Not do­ing a deep dive. Just look­ing at the sur­face and un­der­stand­ing what’s un­der the ground in the city of Chicago. That in­cludes part of restora­tion,” Con­ner said.

“No fund­ing source is off the ta­ble. We’re look­ing for money ev­ery­where. We’re check­ing the couches for all the quar­ters and the nick­els to make sure this pro­gram is funded.”

At a time when the stay-at-home shut­down trig­gered by the coro­n­avirus has blown a $700 mil­lion hole in Light­foot’s bud­get, Park said the city is look­ing at a “mul­ti­tude of fund­ing sources.” The city has “a lit­tle bit set aside for a pi­lot” pro­gram — but only $5 mil­lion, she said.

“Ob­vi­ously, at that dol­lar amount, it will take us all to get to that level. And we ab­so­lutely do need fed­eral and state as­sis­tance for this pro­gram,” Park said.

No city in Amer­ica has more lead ser­vice lines than Chicago, and they des­per­ately need to be re­placed. The cost can range from $3,000 to $10,000 for each af­fected prop­erty. Restora­tion and la­bor costs com­pound the price tag.

As a may­oral can­di­date, Light­foot ac­cused

Mayor Rahm Emanuel of en­gag­ing in a “coverup” of what she called a ma­jor pub­lic health is­sue.

She ar­gued then that con­cerned home­own­ers couldn’t wait for re­sults of a $750,000 study to de­ter­mine the cost of and po­ten­tial fund­ing for a plan to re­place lead ser­vice lines.

“What­ever it takes, this ad­min­is­tra­tion has a moral obli­ga­tion to make this right,” she said then.

Two months after tak­ing of­fice, Light­foot in­sisted Chicago’s drink­ing wa­ter was safe. But she also paused meter in­stal­la­tion city­wide after an­other round of wa­ter tests at me­tered homes showed more el­e­vated lead lev­els.

On Tues­day, Vidis, the wa­ter depart­ment spokes­woman, said “Chicago’s drink­ing wa­ter is in com­pli­ance with all fed­eral and state stan­dards for safety.”

SUN-TIMES FILE

City Depart­ment of Wa­ter Man­age­ment em­ploy­ees at a wa­ter main break in Jan­uary 2019. The city is close to un­veil­ing de­tails of their plan to re­place lead ser­vice lines car­ry­ing wa­ter from the mains into homes.

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