An Evanston lead service line replacement, as seen in a recent city presentation. Credit: City of Evanston

Six Evanston residents will be hired as part of the city’s effort to replace leaking or broken lead service lines under a workforce development program approved May 9 by the Evanston City Council.

City Council members voted 9-0 to authorize funding for the program.

The costs will be split between the city’s Water Fund ($861,000) and federal American Recovery Plan Act monies ($930,000) for water and sewer infrastructure.

On the city side, staff is proposing a 5% water rate increase in 2023 and 4% increase in 2024 to generate the revenue needed for the improvements.

The Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act adopted by the State of Illinois went into effect Jan. 1, David Stoneback, the interim Deputy City Manager wrote in a memo.

“The Act prohibits the repair of lead water service lines,” he noted, “thus requiring any leaking or damaged lead service line to be replaced in its entirety, from the water main to the meter inside the home.”

Prior to the act, staff members in the Water Department’s Distribution Division repaired an annual average of 65 leaking or broken lead water lines, Stoneback said.

Officials estimate it will take additional workers for the city to handle the workload of replacing, not reparing, the lead lines, Stoneback wrote.

“Staff is proposing to add additional employees in both the Water Division and Street Division” to absorb the additional workload, he said. “In order to attempt to make Evanston residents the most likely candidates to obtain these positions, staff recommends hiring work force development (WFD) employees in 2022 and then begin adding the permanent FTE [full-time equivalent] positions in 2023 and 2024.

“The WFD positions would be offered only to Evanston residents, and, through the program, the WFD employees are provided specific on-the-job training that frequently makes them the best candidates for the permanent positions,” he said.

Council Member Bobby Burns, 5th Ward. Credit: City of Evanston

Salaries for WFD employees will be $14 to $18 per hour the first year. If hired permanently, they could move into full-time jobs, with $100,000 annual salaries.

During council comment at the May 9 meeting, first-term Council Member Bobby Burns, 5th Ward, who had called for use of the workforce program in a referral last August, hailed the move forward.

His question at the time, he recalled, was “How can we prioritize Evanston residents?” In projects well before his time, such as the Deep Tunnel project, “we would contract out for this work, and we’ll still need to do that,” he said.

“But what we’ve done this time is a shift – that we’ve actually set aside a portion of the work, that city staff is capable of training other community members to do. And that – roughly about $700,000 – we’ll be putting back into the community by employing people. We still have some work to do; it’s going to start off as an apprenticeship program. And then, hopefully, we can keep all, if not most, with the city for full-time permanent work. But this is a really exciting opportunity.”

Stoneback cautioned in his memo that the city still has considerable work ahead on the project.

“While implementing the increased WFD program and additional FTEs is a significant expense,” he wrote, “Evanston will need to pay to have this work completed, regardless of whether it is done in-house or contracted out.”

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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  1. Only broken or leaking lead lines?

    I thought the intention was to replace all lead lines for health reasons?

    Broken or leaking only serves the municipality, which they have been doing..lead or any other material..all along and rightfully so.