Survey of Athol service lines for lead continues

Recorder Staff/Domenic Poli  Athol Town Hall.

Recorder Staff/Domenic Poli Athol Town Hall.

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 02-22-2024 5:00 PM

ATHOL – The town’s Water Division is renewing its efforts to complete a survey of service lines to ensure none are made of lead.

At its meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 20, the Selectboard met with Department of Public Works Director Dick Kilhart to discuss the work. The DPW oversees the Water Division, which has been conducting the inventory to help identify and remove lead lines for the past year. Fliers are being distributed to service locations and information is also being posted on the town web site and social media.

Town Manager Shaun Suhoski told the board, “The (federal) EPA is requiring an assessment of all service lines for lead, not just here but everywhere. The DPW has been working on it for a year, but we have a few hundred households that still need to respond.”

Kilhart told board members that every municipality across the country that has a public water system has to meet this requirement. As of Feb. 20, Kilhart said approximately 3,200 of the town’s 3,800 customers have completed the survey, and a program called “Get the Lead Out” was started to help in this effort.

The status of the lines at the 500 locations yet to be surveyed, he said, is considered “unknown.”

“That means that there isn’t anybody here who remembers what that service line was,” said Kilhart. “There isn’t anybody that has a tie card (which shows where the line ties into the house) or any kind of information on that that says, ‘copper service line, plastic service line, galvanized service line, lead service line.’”

In hopes of tracking down the information, the Water Division is sending out a flier which instructs property owners on how to go into their basement, take a picture of their water meter and by scanning a URL printed on the flier, upload the picture to the Mass Lead Service Line Identification app, then answer some questions. The picture and information provided will allow the division to identify material with which the service line is made.

“We’re happy to climb underneath porches and cellars and crawl spaces and do that for you,” said Kilhart, “but what we’re experiencing now – with this remaining 400 or 500 – is that a lot of folks don’t want to let you into their property. We try to remind them that we’re doing this because it’s a requirement, but anytime you say ‘the government is here to help you,’ they don’t want to let you in there.”

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Kilhart noted that all Water Division staff carry identification, including an ID card, and will be driving a vehicle with the town seal emblazoned on it. All staff, he said, have also undergone Criminal Offender Record Information checks. Kilhart said that if homeowners would feel more comfortable, they can call the DPW office and he can provide the service himself.

If the town isn’t able to get the information by checking the meter and looking at the connection, those locations will be reported to the EPA as “unknown.” Should that be the case, the department has to resort to more intensive methods.

“We have a method of going to verify that, and that comes with excavation. So, we excavate at the curb box; so, we’re either digging up the front lawn, the sidewalk, or the roadways, and that costs a lot of money – that costs all of us money,” Kilhart told the board. “But if we can get people to allow us access – and we have the right to have access anyway. We’re happy to meet any timeframe, if someone wants us to come on a Saturday or a Sunday or a Monday night at 8 p.m., we’ll make that schedule work. We’re not there to look at what’s going on in that house, we’re there to look at that water service.”

Kilhart said it’s important to get a complete inventory of Athol’s service lines. If lines are reported to the EPA as “unknown,” he said, “Technically, according to EPA regulations, ‘unknown’ means ‘lead service line’ – and we don’t want that.”

Kilhart told the Athol Daily News that the hope is to have the remaining number of service lines verified by the end of March. A preliminary report will be submitted for comment to the state Department of Environmental Protection in April, with the town’s final report due to the federal EPA by October.

“We’re having the guys really focus hard on (in-person visits) because part of our next issue is we have to commit three employees or four employees to excavation,” he said. “It’s either a 10-minute visit in somebody’s basement, with a couple of pictures and some conversation and some information gathering, or two holes in the street and one in the front yard, depending on where the shutoff is. And it takes guys away from other projects.”

Kilhart said he understands that some excavations will have to be done, but he’s hoping to keep it to a reasonable number.

“If by chance we come across a lead service line, we would then immediately schedule replacement of that service line,” he said.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.