Pixabay/Ventnor is embarking on a 10-year effort to replace galvanize steel water lines.


VENTNOR – Although there are still questions that remain unanswered, the Ventnor City Board of Commissioners Thursday, Sept. 8 approved a new ordinance giving property owners 90 days to inform the city if they want to opt out of a 10-year citywide project to replace galvanized steel water service lines.

According to city officials, adoption of the ordinance is a requirement to apply to the NJ Infrastructure Trust to fund all or a portion of the estimated $65-75 million project. The work will include replacing lead couplings at the main and galvanized steel pipes from the main to the house. There are more than 5,200 service lines with galvanized steel pipes accounting for 90% of the homes in Ventnor. Newer homes built after 1988 and those raised after Hurricane Sandy may already have copper service lines and are not included in the 5,200-home estimate, officials said.

The ordinance will allow residents to choose to do the work themselves or let the city do it.

Following problems in Flint, Michigan, and Newark, NJ Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation in July 2021 requiring municipalities to identify lead service lines and replace them by 2031. Cities that adopt ordinances to replace the lines will be able to apply for some of the billions of dollars in federal funding made possible through the Biden Administration’s Infrastructure Bill, which provides $15 billion to states over the next five years.

Commissioner of Public Works Lance Landgraf said New Jersey is the first state in the nation to mandate that lead and galvanized steel service lines be replaced and that Ventnor is one of the first cities in New Jersey to apply for the funding.

The city’s grant coordinator, James Rutala of Rutala Associates of Linwood, said he is applying for the full amount, which could be awarded in the form of grants and loans.

“Ventnor is doing the right thing in getting in a position to take advantage of what’s available,” Rutala said Friday morning.

Atlantic City is also in the process of passing an ordinance to take advantage of the funding opportunity, Rutala said.

The state has classified galvanized steel pipes in the same category as the flexible lead pipes used many decades ago because they leach lead into the water and could cause lead poisoning. Lead poisoning lowers IQ and can stunt child growth development. Homes built after 1987 do not have lead service lines.

Landgraf said the city’s water is tested every year and shows it is safe and meets federal and state limits. Periodic water tests show Ventnor’s water contains less than 2 parts per billion of lead, when the threshold is 15 ppb.

“You would think the state would want to force the cities that have the worst (problems) first,” Commissioner Tim Kriebel said.

Property owners can opt-out of the city doing the work and can replace the lines at their own expense, however they are required to provide a certification to the city within 90 days of the ordinance’s adoption.

Business owner Brenda Dowd who spoke during the public hearing asked how residents would know if they have galvanized steel lines and how much it would cost to replace them on their own.

“Hire a plumber,” Mayor Beth Holtzman said.

Holtzman said the service line at her house in Ventnor Heights was replaced with copper after her home was damaged during Hurricane Sandy and it cost $5,000.

“That was 10 years ago,” she said.

“Why is the 90 days required so quickly to get plumbers out to certify the lines,” resident Al Denafo asked.

Denafo said he doubted there would be enough plumbers available to inspect 5,200 lines within 90 days and asked the board to extend the deadline to 180 days.

Landgraf said the ordinance replicated the state’s requirements.

“I met with the commissioner of the DEP and raised some of these issues,” Landgraf said. “This was thrust on us very quickly. The regs are voluminous and we are asking them to put a pause on this.”

Landgraf said the city would consider passing a resolution requesting the state allow residents more time to comply.

Dowd also asked how residents will be notified they have 90 days to comply with the new ordinance.

Landgraf said a letter and a supporting document was sent to taxpayers in June informing them of the new legislation. According to the letter, the city owns the pipes in the street to the curb and the property owner owns the pipes from the curb to the house. It instructs homeowners to call the city if they plan to replace the pipes on their own.

“The need to do this on your own is not mandatory,” Kriebel said. “You would only choose to do it if you don’t want the city to do it for you or be on your property and having to replace shrubs or driveways or whatever they come across when they do that main.”

He said the ordinance is “a paperwork step” that demonstrates to the state that the city has given homeowners the option to do the work on their own, which is a requirement to apply for the funding.

“We want to be first in line to get the grant,” Landgraf said. “We want the money.”

Resident Mimi DeSouza questioned how the project would be funded beyond the grant.

Chief Financial Officer Al Stanley said it could be paid for through a special 10-year assessment levied against the homeowner based on the cost to do their property, separate from their tax bill. If a property is sold, the total assessment would be due and payable at settlement.

Landgraf said the cost to the homeowner could vary based on the cost of restoration of the property from the curb to the house. Some homes may only need sod replaced, while others could require more extensive restoration.

“It’s what’s behind the curb that will be costly,” Landgraf said.

Stanley said the city’s costs beyond the grant amount would be shared by those homeowners who agree to allow the city to do the work.

“Those who pay for the replacement on their own will not receive a special assessment,” he said.

Dowd insisted the city do more to educate the public about the ordinance.

“People need to come and hear it from the dais and not on social media,” Holtzman said, urging residents with questions to come to meetings, either in person or through Zoom.

Landgraf said the city would consider hosting a public meeting where representatives of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection can answer questions.

“It’s their program, not ours,” Landgraf said.

He also said once the city knows more, the ordinance could be amended to allow a longer time period to comply.

Residents who have questions should call the Utility Department at 609-823-7935.

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Categories: Ventnor

Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

Award winning journalist covering news, events and people of Atlantic County for more than 20 years.