GARY — Indiana American Water broke ground Friday on an $8.5 million project replacing nearly 2 miles of antiquated water main lines as part of the company's overall multiyear $127-million investment in Northwest Indiana's water infrastructure. 

The company, which was first in the state to take advantage of a 2017 law aimed at eliminating dangerous lead pipes, also provided updates on that project. 

More than 1,000 lead service lines, both company- and customer-owned, in Gary have been replaced or retired since the start of 2018, Stacy Hoffman, engineering director for IAWC, said Friday during a news conference in Gary. 

By year's end, the company will have replaced or retired about 1,200 lead service lines in the Gary area, said Stacy Hoffman, director of engineering at IAWC. The plan is to replace all of the company's estimated 50,000 lead service lines statewide, over the next 10 to 24 years, he said. 

"Because of what we've seen in other communities, we know that it is imperative to get lead service lines replaced," said Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, who joined IAWC for Friday's announcement.

A ceremonial groundbreaking kicked off the company's phase two of a major transmission main project in the Region. It will replace aging and failing steel and cast iron pipes that are nearly a century old with larger and newer pipes, IAWC President Deborah Dewey said. 

Freeman-Wilson lauded the company's investment in Gary. 

"So often, people think about infrastructure as an infringement because sometimes it is, quite frankly, when things are going in, things are going out, things are getting paved. But what we understand is, in order for the top to look better, there has to be investment in what happens underneath. And that's what Indiana American Water is doing. You're investing underneath so that we can invest above-ground," Freeman-Wilson said. 

The water main project route runs along 11th, 12th and 13th avenues from Chase to Monroe streets, according to the company. The goal is to enhance system flows, reliability and firefighting capabilities and also mitigate occurrences of low system pressures, the company said. 

Dewey said the company has invested more than $127 million in the Region since 2014, including nearly $67 million to replace or relocate water mains and hydrants, $23 million for new meters and service lines and $38 million for various improvements.

Specific improvements include upgrades at the company's Borman Park water treatment facility in Gary, and replacing the intake structure in Lake Michigan and an aging booster pump station along Interstate 94 in Chesterton, among others. 

IAWC has proposed rate increases to offset infrastructure costs and lead service line replacements, according to the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor and company spokesman Joseph Loughmiller. 

An Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission hearing on the proposed rate increase is set for 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 26 at City Hall, 401 Broadway. The rates would be raised in two phases. For most residential customers using 5,000 gallons per month, the monthly bill would rise from $43.70 to $46.71 in July 2019, and then to $40.34 in July 2020. 

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