On December 20, the City of Milwaukee took another important step in the municipality’s long-term fight against childhood lead exposure. The city has been working aggressively and proactively on the solving the issue for more than 20 years. At the signing ceremony, Mayor Tom Barrett explained that the city had previously supported property owners by subsidizing a window replacement program, which helped reduce exposure to the primary cause of lead contamination that came from chipping, peeling, and cracking of lead-based paint.
“As a matter of fact, when I was in Congress during the 1990s, I worked very closely with the city leaders of that time to obtain federal dollars to help us reduce lead exposure caused by paint in older homes. In the City of Milwaukee, that was by far one of the biggest issues for families with children.”
Known as service lines or laterals, lead water pipes connect municipal mains to residences that were constructed before the 1950s. The city owns these laterals from the private property line to the water main. The section between the property line and the residence is the responsibility of the property owner.
“We are focused on replacing the entire lead service line, the public section and the private section. What we’ve learned, based on engineering analysis, is that if we do just the public service lateral and not the private lateral, that’s probably worse than doing nothing. So we have reached a decision, with the strong support of the Common Council, that this is going to be mandatory,” explained Mayor Barrett, during his City Hall press conference. “We want it to be mandatory because some landlords, and absentee landlords in particular, would not have this as a high priority. We want to make sure that this is a high priority. It is a long-term project, and we know it’s an expensive project.”
The Milwaukee Common Council approved the measure with a 12-3 vote on December 13. Under the approved ordinance, Milwaukee Water Works will replace leaking or damaged lead service lines at eligible residential properties and, using federal government funds administered through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), plans to replace lead service lines with copper at 385 state-licensed child cares and eight private schools in 2017. Additionally, there are 300 lines in private residences that will need to be replaced due to leaks.
Along with representatives from the DWP and the Health Department were members of the Common Council, Alderman Cavalier Johnson, Alderman Michael J. Murphy, and Alderman Jim Bohl who co-sponsored the ordinance with Council President Ashanti Hamilton.
The city will pay for replacement of the public section, which is 80% of the total expense. Property owners will be required to pay two-thirds of the private section. That cost would be capped at $1,600, and there would be a 10 year term to pay it at $16 a month. There is no subsidy for owners of either residential properties with more than four units or commercial properties.
“The ordinance I will sign today will allow the city to move forward, and work to really help the property owners be part of the solution as well. Hundreds of hours that have gone into this, between the Department of Public Works, the Health Department, and the Common Council. I want to thank everyone who has been involved,” said Mayor Barrett, as he signed the authorization. “All right, let’s get the work done.”