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Fontana questions PWSA's claim that it can't replace private lead lines

| Friday, May 19, 2017, 4:48 p.m.
Contractors work together to dig a hole to expose, remove and replace a lead main service line on Monday, March 21, 2016, in Flint, Mich.
A lead main service line is exposed and measured as members of Eagle Excavation Inc., Goyette Mechanical Co. and Mechanical Contractors Johnson & Wood work together to dig a hole to expose, remove and replace a lead main service line in Flint, Mich.
State Sen. Wayne Fontana
Waldorf & Sons Excavating crew foreman Brian Damon holds the first lead service line removed from Flint after digging for hours on Thursday, March 3, 2016, in Flint, Mich.
Waldorf & Sons Excavating crew foreman Brian Damon unhooks a lead service line - the first being removed in the city - after digging for hours on Thursday, March 3, 2016, Flint, Mich.

State Sen. Wayne Fontana said he is not aware of a state law that would prohibit the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority from replacing privately owned portions of lead water lines.

“I never could find out exactly where it says that,” Fontana, D-Brookline, told the Tribune-Review.

PWSA has said it is not permitted to go beyond replacing the public portions of lead lines at Pittsburgh homes.

Fontana introduced a bill Monday that would allow water systems to replace the private side — an amendment to a state law called Title 53.

However, that law does not include language prohibiting the private-side replacements, so the amendment would be for clarity's sake, Fontana said.

PWSA did not ask Fontana to introduce the bill, he said.

The Municipality Authorities Act — which PWSA spokesman Will Pickering cited Monday as the reason the authority can't replace the private side — also does not include language prohibiting private line replacement, said Jennifer Case, government relations liaison for the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association.

When presented with that information, Pickering pointed to a 2011 Commonwealth Court ruling that said PWSA can't provide a service that duplicates or interferes with one offered by a private business. In that case, Dominion Products and Services, Inc. v. The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, Dominion Products contested PWSA's residential line insurance program because Dominion sells home insurance coverage for water line installation and repair.

Like the laws, Fontana said he doesn't believe the court ruling necessarily prevents PWSA from replacing the private side of lead lines.

“Even the lawsuit was still vague as to whether they can or can't,” Fontana said.

PWSA supports Fontana's bill, and wants to be able to replace the full line, Pickering said.

On May 8, PWSA launched a program to partially replace lead lines at Pittsburgh homes — part of an Environmental Protection Agency requirement for all water systems that are exceeding a federal lead threshold.

The EPA prefers water systems do full line replacements, not partial replacements, said Peter Grevatt, director of the EPA's office of groundwater and drinking water. A partial replacement can disturb lead particles in the pipe, Grevatt told the Trib.

Fontana said he hopes the bill can get through the state Senate's Local Government Committee in the next couple of weeks. It then must go to the full House — where a similar bill he proposed last year for sewer lines died.

In the meantime, PWSA plans to perform about 60 partial line replacements at Pittsburgh homes per week, starting first in Mt. Washington and at properties that showed high lead levels in samples, Pickering said.

Fontana doesn't think PWSA needs to wait until the bill passes to start replacing the full line.

“I think PWSA should do it in certain cases,” Fontana said. “Go ahead and do the whole thing.”

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, tclift@tribweb.com or Twitter @tclift.

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