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Is Milwaukee ready to repair lead pipes?

Posted at 4:42 PM, Apr 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-24 18:19:55-04

Are there enough people to do the work that's required to replace lead pipes in Milwaukee?

Sen. Lena Taylor and Department of Workforce Development Secretary-designee Caleb Frostman met with Plumbers Union Local 75 in Milwaukee to better answer that question.

"We need to train more people on how to do this and get used to it," a member of the Plumbers Union Local 75 said. "A few years ago we were only doing 50 or 60 lead line replacements per year. Now we're doing hundreds and hundreds of these. There's not enough people with that training yet."

The job comes with a salary of about $42/hour, plus a pension and health insurance. Leaders of the local plumbers' union say they're not seeing enough interest for these jobs among young people. They're working to develop more internship and training programs.

But more plumbers, laborers and operating engineers for this work are not the only thing needed.

"We need more funding to be able to do more lead services," a union contractor said. "I can't invest in more equipment and bring in more manpower until we know that that funding is established."

That funding needs to come from the state and federal government.

That contractor says replacing lead laterals on just one home costs about $10,000 and requires at least one day of work.

To put that in perspective, there are 170,000 lead service lines in Wisconsin.

Gov. Tony Evers proposed $40 million in his state budget for lead service line replacement. But many Republicans, who control the House and Senate, say the state can't afford Evers' budget as it stands.

Here is a statement from the Health Department:

"In late 2018, the Mayor’s Office and all Alderpersons were notified that a criminal investigation was underway by District Attorney Chisholm’s office. This is an ongoing investigation; the City of Milwaukee Health Department is fully cooperative. As of today, we have not been informed of an end date but will continue to work with the District Attorney’s Office. Our main focus it to reassure the public that we have made significant progress in rebuilding the program, and, that we have a comprehensive program in place to respond to lead-poisoned children."