Whitmer: City should give customers rebate for lead pipe work
ESCANABA — Governor Gretchen Whitmer Thursday suggested that residents hit hard by water rate increases spurred by lead line replacement costs could see a return of their investment — if their municipalities agree to it.
“I think that when we help the municipalities they’ll be in a position to hopefully rebate some of those dollars,” Whitmer told the Daily Press during an exclusive interview.
Prompted by the fallout from the Flint water crisis, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) issued rules dictating municipalities were required to replace lead service lines at a rate of 5 percent of lines within their borders per year starting in 2021. The rules also changed to prohibit “partial line replacements,” where just the lead portion of a service was removed, such as a gooseneck connecting a water main and a residential service line. Any lines that are made of lead or are downstream of where lead is or previously was located are considered lead contaminated all the way to the in-home meter and must be replaced under the rules.
All of the costs associated with the replacements fall on the municipalities themselves, which prompted many cities across the state to levy substantial rate hikes for municipal water. In Escanaba, where lead service line replacements were anticipated to cost roughly $20 million, residents saw a 45 percent increase in water rates in 2019. Rates have continued to rise, with a roughly 4 percent increase in both usage rates and service fees levied just this year.
While the city has sought grants to manage the cost of the lead service line replacements, the projects are still a significant burden on the city’s coffers. Whitmer suggested Thursday some of the money from the American Rescue Plan, the stimulus packaged signed into law earlier this year by President Joe Biden, could offset costs for municipalities.
“I have proposed that we spend about $400 million on the Mi Clean Water Plan to help local municipal
ties replace lead pipes, I’m committed to seeing that through. We need the legislature to embrace it and get it done but there’s no question this is an issue of old infrastructure all across the state of Michigan, and we want to use these resources that we have because of the American Rescue Plan to get to work and help communities replace these lead lines,” she said.