Stock photo

Riverhead has been offered a $627,327 state grant to replace lead drinking water service lines in the community.

The grant award is one of 18 made to municipalities statewide, totaling $10 million in the second round of the State Department of Health’s Lead Service Line Replacement Program. The state awarded $20 million to 26 communities in round one.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced round two funding on Friday.

Grants will be used to replace residential lead service lines from the municipal water main to the residence.

Eligibility for municipalities to participate in the Lead Service Line Replacement Program was based on the following criteria: percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels; median household income; and number of homes built before 1939 when lead service lines were used, according to the governor’s press release.

Municipalities that met the eligibility thresholds were listed with other municipalities in their region, in order based on the data from the three eligibility categories. Municipalities with a combination of high blood lead levels, low median household income and a large number of old houses placed higher on the regional list, according to the State Department of Health.

Lead Service Line Replacement Program award offers were extended to the municipalities at the top of their regional list.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are approximately half a million U.S. children ages 1-5 with blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL), the reference level at which CDC recommends public health actions be initiated.

“No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body. Because lead exposure often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized,” the CDC says.

The Lead Service Line Replacement Program is a component of New York’s $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017.

“Eliminating exposure to lead, in all its forms, is essential to healthy development. This program is successfully targeting our highest-risk communities where replacing lead drinking water service lines can make a real difference in the future health and well-being of children,” N.Y. Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said.

The health department estimates the cost of service line replacement to be $5,000 to $10,000 per line, depending on its length.

The grant is a reimbursement grant, meaning the town must pay for the work and then submit quarterly vouchers to the program for reimbursement, which the health department estimates to take place within 30 to 60 days of submission.

It is up to the municipality to identify and prioritize the lead lines to be replaced. It is not required that children presently live in a home selected for line replacement. The only requirement is that some portion of the service line must contain lead. This includes the “gooseneck” connecting the municipal water main to the service line, the service line from the curb stop to the building, or both.

Under the program’s rules the municipalities can use their own work force, hire outside contractors or allow homeowners to hire their own contractors.

Grant funds can be used to pay engineering fees (planning, design and construction), legal fees, municipal administration fees, construction (materials, equipment, workforce) and site/property restoration.

Participation in the program is optional. The municipality can elect to accept the grant award or decline to participate.

The municipality would have two years to spend the grant money.

“I have a lot of questions about implementation before we commit to it,” Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said this morning.

“But it’s certainly something we wouldn’t be able to get done without assistance from the state and it’s a win for our community.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated after its original publication to reflect the comments of the town supervisor.

The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.

Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.