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By Carmen Ensinger
If you see White Hall city crews around the town with a piece of machinery boring into the earth day after day in a different location and then moving on, don’t be disturbed, they are only trying to come into compliance with Environmental Protection Agency rules which say all lead pipes within a municipality must be replaced by the year 2024.
The machine they are using is called a vac wagon and the White Hall City Council approved the renting of the wagon for an undetermined amount of time at the July 12 meeting, although the city had already been using it for several days prior to the council meeting after getting a consensus from the council prior to the meeting.
The testing of the pipes, some of which are original to the city’s water system which is over 100 years old, requires digging down and taking a sample of the pipe. Other than digging by hand, the only piece of equipment the city has to get down to the pipe for testing is a backhoe. This runs the danger of hitting the pipe and damaging it while digging. This is where the vac wagon comes in.
Alderman David Meldrum explained how it works.
“This machine uses high pressure water to bore down into the earth,” Meldrum said. “Then, it sucks it and the earth back up so you can get to the pipe. If you dig with the backhoe, you run the risk of hitting the lines so it is a safety issue.”
Any lines that are lead will have to be replaced, but they are not the only ones that will need replaced. Lines that run from the road to individual homes will also need to be replaced should any kind of water emergency ever arise.
Chris Neff, a member of the utility department, explained a new law that took effect Jan. 1.
“We have got to come up with some kind of policy because as of Jan. 1, if we go in the middle of the night and we find lead pipes, we can’t fix those pipes,” Neff said. “It has to be stripped out from the main to the house.”
Neff said the city’s engineers, Benton and Associates, said the city of Jacksonville is giving their citizens three different options that White Hall could consider when they are coming up with some kind of policy.
“The first option is that we can replace the pipe but we can’t hook it up,” Neff said. “The second option is you can get your own plumber to do it and the third option is you can sign a waiver saying you know the lead pipe is there and we can’t touch it.”
Since the law went into effect on Jan. 1 of this year, the city has to come up with something.
“Technically, by law, we can’t touch those pipes now,” Neff said. “We can replace the lines from the main to the meter, which is on us, but if you have lead on your side, we can’t touch it.”
City Attorney, who was in attendance via phone, said that the EPA should have some sort of form the city could use for homeowners to sign in the event they do have lead on their side.
The council approved Benton and Associates to do a water rate study. This study is because the city wants to raise the rates it charges for rural water.
“Our agreement with rural water says that in order to raise or adjust rates says we have to have a rate study to justify what we are doing,” Alderman Brandon Roberts said. “But they are so busy right now it will probably be September before they can get to it.”
The council also approved changing the hours at the water plant from 8 hours per day to 10 hours per day. Originally, it was to be a permanent move, but the council agreed to make it “as needed.”
“Right now we are doing okay with eight hours per day, but we were pumping so much water we were putting in 16 hour days,” Water Plant Supervisor Steve McCarthy said. “But when the fertilizer plant starts taking water it is going to get busy again. Is it okay if we make that as necessary?”