Councilor Marc Laplante abstained from both votes and Councilor Eileen Bernal was absent.
The improvements will come on top of $15.8 million worth of upgrades to the water distribution system that the council approved last year, which among other things is paying to replace meters in homes and businesses that will be read remotely by antennas on two water towers.
In all, the three water and sewer projects will cost $41.5 million, all but about $2 million of it paid for with 2 percent, 20-year loans from state pools of money set aside to help communities improve water and sewage systems across Massachusetts. The program is targeted at systems that discharge waste water to the Merrimack and Connecticut rivers, Boston Harbor and Buzzards Bay. The federal government contributes to the program.
The state Department of Environmental Protection provided the loans, after ranking requests from the localities according to their urgency. Lawrence’s request for the $23.8 million to clear out the rust in its water mains ranked it second of the 24 communities that will receive funding this year, behind Bellingham’s application for a $15.3 million loan to build new water treatment plants.
Some of the work already has begun. Lawrence this year cleared about 2,700 feet of water pipes under Park Street, where rust reduced the opening in some eight-inch pipes to pinholes. Clearing the iron pipes – installed in 1873 — increased the flow to the street’s fire hydrants from 459 gallons a minute to more than 2,700, Bergeron said.
Lawrence’s application for the loan got a competitive boost from an “environmental justice” component of the state loan program that gives extra consideration to communities with average household incomes 65 percent below the state average. Because of its poverty, up to 10 percent of what the city borrows will be forgiven by the state.
Besides repairing or replacing the water pipes, the project includes repairing valves and hydrants.