Should ratepayers pay to replace someone else’s lead service lines?

The private water company Suez North America is working to replace the lead pipes and gooseneck connectors it owns that run below the streets in Bergen and Hudson counties with copper after testing returned elevated lead levels in 16 homes last year.

In the meantime, communities served by Suez have begun learning the complexities of having their lead service lines replaced — and the costs.

Suez says it is only able to replace utility-owned lead lines when they meet non-lead, customer-owned service lines. But if the customer-owned pipes are made of lead, the water company must wait for those to be swapped out before they can replace their own lead lines.

Homeowners are encouraged to replace their lead service lines, but the work costs $3,000 to $8,000. While Suez is offering homeowners $1,000 interest-free loans, it’s also proposing a surcharge to spread the rest of the cost to its ratepayers.

Suez’s plan has drawn objection from the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel, which will determine if ratepayers are required to pay for work done on private property.

“Some companies have just absorbed the cost because it’s not necessarily a huge lift,” said Stefanie Brand, director of the rate counsel. “When they’re asking for ratepayers to pay for it, they’re not just asking for us to pay for the cost, they’re asking us to pay them a profit.”

Communications Director at Suez, Debra Vial, agrees that there needs to be some measure in place to help customers who can’t afford the replacement, and the two groups are continuing their discussion about how to resolve the situation.

In the meantime, Suez encourages customers with lead concerns to have their water tested.

RELATED: Newark’s Lead Crisis | Collection

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