The Village of Forest Park received a $2.35 million forgivable loan from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) to help replace lead service lines.

 While the village didn’t get as big of a loan as it wanted, Village Administrator Moses Amidei said he was pleased with what Forest Park did get.

“It’s very good news, because the new  [state] law [didn’t indicate] that the state will help out with funding,” he said. “Obviously, a low-interest loan is not assistance, but a forgivable loan is assistance, so it’s great news, that we’ll be able to use these funds to replace lead water service lines.”

Amidei told the Review that the loan must be used to replace lead service lines connected to homes and businesses rather than water mains. But how exactly Forest Park will use the money will depend on whether the village council approves any water main replacement projects for 2024. 

If any water mains get replaced, Forest Park will use the state loan money to replace “full” lead lines connected to those water mains, to avoid having to dig up a street more than necessary. If it ends up not replacing any water mains, the village will use the money to replace “partial” lead service lines, where the section of the service line leading to the shut-off valve has been replaced, but the portion on the private property is still lead.

Either way, the loan will only partially dent the backlog of lead pipes which must be replaced under state law. Based on the village’s previous lead service inventory, if it uses the new loan for the full lead lines, it would only be able to replace about a fourth of all lines. If it chooses to replace the partial lines, it will only be able to cover a third of them. Work on the line replacement must begin no later than March 31, 2024. 

Amidei and other village officials are working on developing plans in time to put them before the council “in a few months” to allow time for the construction bids to be approved by the deadline.

Illinois municipalities were previously only required to replace the lead service lines as far as the shut-off valve. In 2021, the Illinois General Assembly passed the Lead Service Line Replacement and Notification Act, which requires municipalities to inventory and replace all lead service lines which connect to the homes or businesses of local water users – including the portions which are on private property. 

Communities have until April 15, 2027 to submit a final inventory. The deadlines for replacement vary depending on how many lead pipes a community has. Forest Park must replace at least 6% of its lead pipes each year and all of them within no more than 17 years.

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. The village estimated it would cost $25 million to replace them all, with $11.1 million to replace full lead lines and $7.19 million to replace partial lead lines. The rest of that $25 million estimated cost would go to replace water meters and covering design and construction engineering costs. 

Public Works Director Sal Stella previously indicated that, if Forest Park did not get a forgivable loan, it would look elsewhere for funding.

Amidei announced the village got the loan during the June 12 village council meeting. He said, later that week, that he, along with Stella, Rachell Entler, executive assistant to the mayor, and Commissioner of Streets and Public Improvements Michele Melin-Rogovin would begin discussing the water main replacement plans for next year. 

In a follow-up interview, Amidei said he wasn’t prepared to discuss exactly how many service lines will be replaced and where they might be replaced until the plan is completed.

“I hope to have a plan to present to the Village Council in the next few months,” he said. “Then, the council can authorize the design and bidding of the project, in order for construction to take place by March 31, 2024.”

Amidei said that, if the village decides not to replace any water mains next year, the replacement of partial lines wouldn’t be as disruptive because it wouldn’t require the village to close those streets. He also said it wouldn’t necessarily be one or the other – depending on what water mains they decide to replace, they may end up replacing some partial lead lines as well.