Sal Stella, the director of Forest Park's public works, stands for a photo on Monday, Aug. 29, 2022, in Forest Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

Forest Park has applied for an $8 million Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) Public Water Supply Program loan to help fund the estimated $25.088 million cost of replacing lead water service lines in the village.

In 2021, the Illinois General Assembly passed the Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act, which requires all municipalities to inventory and replace all lead service lines which connect to the homes or businesses of local water users. Communities have until April 15, 2027 to submit a final inventory. The deadlines for replacement vary depending on how many lead pipes the community has. Forest Park must replace at least 6% of its lead pipes a year and all of them within no more than 17 years.

The issue is that each municipality must figure out how to fund that. During the March 13 village council meeting, Public Works Director Sal Stella said Forest Park hasn’t been able to obtain any state grants, but they are applying for a loan. The hope is that IEPA would agree to forgive some of the loan’s principal – which means that the village wouldn’t have to pay all of that money back – but if Forest Park doesn’t get it, it may seek funding elsewhere.

According to the village lead line inventory, Forest Park currently has 3,399 water lines. Of those, 1,100, or about 32.6%, are lead lines. Another 1,438, or 42.3%,  are partial lead lines. 

Since the law passed, the village has been trying to use road repavement projects to replace the sewers as well. 

The IEPA loan would pay for the replacement of 874 lead lines with copper over the course of five years. This would increase the number of copper water lines from 682 to 1,556, or about 45.8% of all water lines. 

Forest Park would split the project into five phases, with each phase beginning in March and ending in December. 

Without forgiveness, Forest Park would need to pay back all $8 million and make 1.04% interest payments. IPEA will evaluate whether the loan qualifies for principal forgiveness based on the village’s Median Household Income and how much the project would cost residents without the forgiveness. 

Stella told the council that, if Forest Park can’t get any principal forgiven, it will consider other funding sources. 

“Once we know more, we will come [back] in front of you guys,” he said.

Either way, Stella said, it would need some combination of additional grants and low-interest loans to replace the remaining lead service lines.

“Early on, there was a couple of grants, one through state and one through federal — basically, they were for low-income [communities] and they dried up really quick,” Stella said. 

As part of the loan application process, the village is required to hold a public hearing where residents will comment on the loan application documents. The hearing will be held at the village hall on March 20 at 4 p.m. The documents are available on the village website, with a link included in the event listing and inside the March 13 meeting council packet.