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Troy seeks input on lead service lines, residents ask why funding goes unspent

City resident Jona Favreau speaks to the Troy City Council
Lucas Willard
/
WAMC
City resident Jona Favreau speaks to the Troy City Council

The City of Troy is warning residents of elevated lead levels linked to aging lead service lines. Meantime, residents and advocates want answers as to why half-a-million-dollars in grant funding to address lead contamination has gone unspent.

On Monday, Troy issued a bulletin explaining that elevated levels of lead were found in some of the 60 homes and buildings tested in the city in 2022.

No lead was found in the city water source or water mains, and the contamination has been linked to the lead service lines that feed individual properties.

The public notice drew the attention of residents, who turned out for Thursday’s city council meeting.

City resident Jona Favreau grew emotional as she described feeling brushed off by city officials. Holding her infant son, Favreau said she first tested her own water in 2022 after her then-2-year-old child was found to have elevated lead levels during a checkup.

She said she was told it was up to the homeowner to replace lead service lines and that the city’s Superintendent of Public Utilities, Chris Wheland, told her he grew up with lead pipes and “turned out fine.”

“That is the definition of survivalist mentality and it is disgusting to say to a mother who is eight months pregnant dealing with lead in the blood of her child who has a speech delay and other sensory issues, both of which are known side effects of lead being present in the blood,” said Favreau.

Reached by WAMC, Wheland declined to comment on the interaction.

But Favreau said she was further surprised that the city had received a $500,000 state grant five years ago dedicated to replacing lead service lines – money that has gone unspent.

“I want to know why this money hasn’t been spent yet, and I want to know who specifically dropped the ball,” said Favreau.

A former city engineer, Aaron Vera, told city councilors that even when employed by the City of Troy he didn’t know of the grant.

“And I was unaware that the city had this funding available when I was in a position to possibly assist and aid the residents of this city, resolving an issue that affected me personally, or my son, personally,” said Vera.

Also appearing Thursday night in support of affected residents were environmental advocates. Rob Hayes is Director of Clean Water at Albany-based Environmental Advocates NY. He said other cities that received similar grant funding have already used it.

“The City of Albany, just across the river, they spend all of their funds by March of 2021. Schenectady spent it by June of 2021. Rochester by March of 2020. This is years ago that these cities took action to eliminate lead threats in their community. Troy took no action,” said Hayes.

Troy will send out a postcard on Monday to residents as part of a surveying effort to help gather an inventory on lead service lines.

But this isn’t the first time the city has undertaken such efforts, which date back to at least 2017.

According to Wheland, in the last two years, about 36,000 notices have been sent out. The city received less than 300 responses.

Here’s Wheland speaking in a January 2022 public service announcement, after the federal bipartisan infrastructure law promised billions to remove and replace lead service lines across the country.

“The goal is to identify and map the remaining lead service lines in Troy in order to develop a comprehensive program to replace these lines. Participation from the public will be vital and necessary component of this effort,” said Wheland.

As to why the city hasn’t spent the $500,000 in state funding, Mayor Patrick Madden said it’s “clearly not enough” to address the issue that could affect thousands of structures.

“When we received the grant, we didn’t know how many occurrences there would be, and that’s going to dictate how you divvy up the money. It would have been great if we had 200 houses and $500,000 was enough to replace them all. It’s not. It’s not close to that. So how do you pick and choose what needs to be replaced when you have a very limited pool of money?” said Madden.

Madden, a Democrat, said the city estimates the cost to replace lines throughout the city could total more than $20 million.

The mayor, city council, and department heads plan to gather at a public meeting on February 16th to discuss the issue.

Republican City Council President Carmella Mantello is looking forward to the meeting.

“The council immediately scheduled a public utilities meeting but what I’ve asked is the superintendent to put together a rollout plan for a grant program – is it going to be reimbursable? Is it going to have a cap? You know, recommend certain plumbing contractors to address these issues. So, stating that, we need to get that grant program out there immediately,” said Mantello.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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