EPA regulation on lead waterlines forces city of Vicksburg to revive paving list

Published 2:48 pm Wednesday, June 22, 2022

City officials have significantly reduced the number of streets that will be overlaid under a proposed paving project.

The move comes in the wake of an amendment to Environmental Protection Agency regulations approved in March that now require municipal and water district water systems with lead waterlines to submit a lead service line replacement plan to state environmental agencies by Oct. 16, 2024.

Officials are beginning the process to develop a plan to replace the lines. Preliminary estimates put the cost of replacing the lines running under 42 city streets at $45 million.

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“We are only going with the streets that we can do without having to remove the lead,” said Mayor George Flaggs Jr. “What we did was take the list we already had and went through it and narrowed it down to the streets that didn’t have lead pipes. I put a $2 million cap on it.”

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen in February 2021 approved a total of 30 city streets to be paved — either a full street or street section — as part of a proposed $4 million paving plan.

The new paving plan was developed Monday after a meeting between Flaggs, Public Works Director Garnet Van Norman and Assistant Public Works Director Dane Lovell. It reduced the number of streets to be paved to a total of 11 streets — five in Ward 1 and six in Ward 2.

“There are grant opportunities (to help with the cost of removing the lines),” Flaggs said. “We’re about to hire an engineering firm to apply for the grants.”

Van Norman said some of the waterlines to be removed are more than 100 years old. Some, he said, go back to when the city’s water plant was on Lee Street near Golding Barge and drew the city’s water from the Mississippi River. The city’s present water plant was built in the early 1970s and the city now gets its water from wells.

“What we’re going to have to do is develop a plan and follow it,” he said. “We’re going to do the best we can and be as cautious as we can.”

“There’s been a gigantic wrench thrown into everything we’re trying to do here as far as paving and infrastructure,” Ward 1 Alderman Michael Mayfield said.

Mayfield said anytime the city prepares to pave streets, officials look at the infrastructure surrounding the area. The board, Mayfield said, has a policy to examine the infrastructure and make the necessary repairs.

“That’s why we hire groups (engineers) to come in and look at everything that we do underground as far as getting prepared to re-do infrastructure or paving,” he said.

He said the EPA regulation “has made it 10 times harder” to pave the streets because the city has to replace the affected lines before paving, “and they’ve added millions of dollars onto what we’re trying to. We’re struggling to get it done in the first place.”

Mayfield said there are few streets in the old Vicksburg area of Ward 1 that do not have a problem with lead pipes.

“It’s going to be a real challenge because we have set aside x-amount of dollars to do this and when you all of a sudden find out what that what you’re trying to do is not what you can do under those guidelines; that stinks to high heaven as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Ward 1, he said, has some bad streets, adding some of them have not been paved for several years and their infrastructure also needs work.

Complying with the mandate, he said, could set paving for some streets further back.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” he said.

Ward 2 Alderman Alex Monsour said he was happy to know the money will be available to replace the lead lines.

“That would have been a tremendous burden on the city of Vicksburg to come up with all that money and do that; our guys have done the due diligence,” he said.

After the replacement plan is developed, he added, city officials will know how much the work will cost and be able to apply for federal funds.

“What we’ve got is streets we can move forward on,” Monsour said, pointing out that most of the streets on the revised list are in Ward 2 and do not have lead-coated waterlines.

“But I think we have to reassess the whole (paving) plan to find out what it’s going to cost us, in the long run, to do all of that (pave and replace lines) while we’re in the ground and we’ll see what we have from the money we have and the additional money from the (waterline) plan from EPA,” he added.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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