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New state law on lead contamination irks two members of the city council

WILLMAR -- Two Willmar City Council members who are home builders are not pleased with a new state law that will require them and other contractors to be certified in construction practices that prevent lead contamination.

Steve Ahmann and Ron Christianson made their thoughts known during a city discussion this week on a proposed $10 fee.The city would charge the fee to contractors to cover the cost of time to research computer data records to verify contractor certification in lead-safe practices in homes and other structures built before 1978.

They are opposed to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule issued in 2008 that requires the use of practices and other actions aimed at preventing lead poisoning.

Beginning in April 2010, contractors performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes, child care facilities and schools built before 1978 to be certified and follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination, according to the EPA website.

Minnesota adopted the law, effective 2011, said Bruce Peterson, director of city planning and development services.

Last week, Peterson proposed the council's Community Development Committee recommend the council enact the fee, to go into effect only if the legislation survives amendment or court appeals. The recommendation failed on a 2-2 committee vote, and the matter was sent to the council without recommendation.

Monday night, the council defeated a motion to enact the fee. Those voting against were Tim Johnson, Jim Dokken and Rick Fagerlie. Those in favor were Denis Anderson and Doug Reese. Ahmann and Christianson abstained. Bruce DeBlieck was absent.

Ahmann, a committee member, said he voted to bring the matter to the council, but said the law will affect his small construction company. Ahmann said he opposes the federal rule and opposes unfunded mandates "for a service that I don't think is absolutely necessary.''

"Lead certification requirements will put a lot of people out of business. But it is a fair fee. I don't agree with the mandate. I don't agree with the fee. If it is shoved down our throats, somebody will have to pay for it. I hope the public understands it's a top-down requirement,'' Ahmann said.

"It's more regulation,'' said Christianson, noting that the construction industry is the most regulated in the country. The far-reaching requirement will increase the cost of work; however, a homeowner does not need to be certified, he said.

Anderson made the motion to enact the fee. "It makes sense to me. We'll be doing a fair amount of work and that $10 is pretty cheap,'' he said.

Even though the city won't be charging the fee, city staff will still need to check records to determine the construction date of the structure and will still need to verify contractor certification, Peterson said Wednesday.

The law authorizes jurisdictions to charge a fee for doing the research. Whoever takes out the permit would pay the cost, but ultimately those costs trickle back to the owner, Peterson said.

"It will take some time,'' he said. "It's certainly going to take as much time as we would charge for had the $10 fee been enacted.''

The council also:

- Approved new insurance deductibles that will save the city $20,385 in premiums in 2011.

- Voted to reduce the interest rate from 5 percent to 4.25 percent on street improvement assessments.

- Authorized the Community Education and Recreation Department to apply for a $250 grant from the Minnesota Frisbee Association for improvements at the city's disc golf course.

- Voted to buy a new credit card fueling system for the airport.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150