By Valerie Baldowski
The Henry County officials recently lauded state Rep. John Lunsford (R-McDonough) for his support of legislation they say stands to save the county more than $3 million.
The Henry Board of Commissioners presented Lunsford with a proclamation Tuesday, recognizing his work on House Bill 101, which he said overturns a state Department of Transportation policy requiring local governments and water utilities to remove abandoned asbestos piping from state rights-of-way.
The measure was signed into law on April 30.
"The truth is, I was doing my job, and that's what you elected me to do," Lunsford told Henry commissioners.
The legislation gives the owner of abandoned asbestos piping, whether it be a local government or authority, discretion in whether to remove the pipe or leave it in place when the piping is in the right-of-way of any road, bridge or transportation project.
According to the bill, the utility owner has the choice to remove and dispose of the pipe in accordance with federal laws and regulations, leave the pipe in place and fill it with grout designed to harden within the pipe, or allow the pipe to remain undisturbed in the ground.
Lunsford said a main motivation for pushing for passage of the legislation centered around cost.
Removal of the asbestos pipes would cost local governments $1,200 per linear foot, he said. County officials said Henry has some 47 miles of asbestos piping, and that the legislation will save it $3.5 million in removal costs.
Henry County District II Commissioner Rick Jeffares, who works for an engineering firm which does work throughout the state, acknowledged removal of the asbestos pipes in Henry would have been pricey.
"We have taken some bids on removing some water lines, and it costs more to remove it than to lay new lines," said Jeffares.
Asbestos pipes were commonly laid throughout the state from 1964 to the 1970s, said Jeffares.
"They affect everybody," he said.
Jeffares said those types of pipes tend to become brittle and break up as they age, but they contain less than two percent asbestos, and pose no danger to water customers.
An additional problem with removing asbestos pipes, Lunsford continued, involves logistics.
Many of the existing pipes have been laid in the same ditch as electric, telephone and television cables.
"The only hazard with asbestos pipes is removing [them]," said Lunsford.