Town looking to open pipe replacement program to more people

Town looking to open pipe replacement program to more people

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Continuing with their uniquely aggressive approach to getting lead pipes replaced across town, officials are seeking permission from the state to allow more people to participate in the program.

“We’re talking to the state about relieving some of the restrictions limiting the program to those individuals who meet the income criteria,” said Mayor Charles Lombardi.

The town has some Community Development Block Grant money left in its Remove the Whole Lead Pipe program accounts from past years, said the mayor, and officials continue to encourage residents to take part in the program.

“We’re going to do whatever we can to keep it going,” he said.

Some people who would qualify currently simply don’t want to give up information on their finances, said Lombardi.

New Planning Director Brett Wiegand said he was introduced to the lead pipe program last week, so he’s still in the phase of gathering information. The idea behind seeking relief on income restrictions is to “make the lead pipe program more accessible to a broader range of incomes,” he said.

“We know not everyone has the means to pay for a large construction project like underground pipe replacement and if we can widen the qualifying income range, we can positively affect a larger population,” he said.

Lombardi said the decision will be up to the state on whether local officials have to sit on the money they have or can “open it up to the whole town.”

The Breeze reported last March that the town would spend another $355,376 in federal grant funds to replace another 100 or so connections. Lombardi said at the time that he was proud that North Providence remained the only community in the state taking such an aggressive approach to lead pipe replacements, paying the fee while residents in other communities have to pay their own way.

North Providence completed about 70 connections the previous year, using $270,376 in Community Development Block Grant funds, leading to the town winning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Children’s Health Award in the fall of 2018.

Most connections have been done in the areas of Marieville and Centredale. Each connection costs about $3,500 to complete.

The town originally had about 563 homes with lead pipe connections in 2016, many in areas with residents of low and moderate incomes. There were about 350 connections still needing to be done as of last year, but it wasn’t clear this week how many of those ended up being completed.

A 10-year plan to get all lead pipes replaced is meant to improve public health and reduce risks. Providence Water previously found elevated levels of lead in drinking water for some areas. The water company is also completing millions of dollars in public water infrastructure upgrades.