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Northern Will County Water Agency files lawsuit in bid to takeover pipeline

The Northern Will County Water Agency last week filed an eminent domain lawsuit in its attempt to gain control of a water pipeline owned by American Lake Water Company, the utility company the agency accused of hiking rates for profit over the last decade.

The lawsuit, filed Jan. 25 by the five communities that make up the agency — Bolingbrook, Lemont, Woodridge, Romeoville and Homer Glen, attempts to take control of the 30-mile Bedford Park transmission line that brings water from Bedford Park to the southwest suburbs, including the five towns in the agency, via eminent domain.

Eminent domain gives power to government bodies to seize private property without owner’s consent.

The suit states the threat of additional water rate hikes by the company are “real and imminent.”

“Between 2003 and 2012, water rates have increased by more than 50 percent to unprecedented levels,” it reads.

Obtaining ownership of the pipeline from the privately owned water company would “eliminate the profit motive inherent in private ownership,” the lawsuit states. Doing so would allow the nearly 30,000 residential and commercial users “to save substantial money on water over time.”

Filing the suit — which mayors representing the five towns in the water agency unanimously agreed to in December — launches a legal battle that could take years to resolve. And one that the other side says could cost taxpayers millions.

“The water agency and its members have worked on their takeover plan for almost six years, have spent hundreds of thousands of precious taxpayer dollars on legal fees and consultants, yet they still misrepresent the facts,” said Michael Smyth, senior manager of Illinois American Water, a subsidiary of American Lake Water. “These (water rate) increases alleged in the complaint have been caused by rate increases from other water suppliers such as the City of Chicago. These supplier increases are passed along without mark-up or profit by American Lake Water.”

Illinois American Water distributes water from the pipeline to local communities. If the pipeline is acquired by the water agency, seeking eminent domain to obtain IAW’s local transmission lines would be the next step.

Before the suit was filed, the water agency twice offered to buy the pipeline from American Lake Water. Those offers — the first for $34 million, the second for $37.6 million — were quickly rejected.

Smyth reiterated Thursday the pipeline was never for sale. He called an eminent domain take-over of the pipeline a “disservice” to customers and encouraged customers to challenge the water agency to present a business plan for water services.

“As a public body, the agency has an obligation to provide transparency and full disclosure to the taxpayers of their respective communities who will bear the cost of this action,” Smyth said in a release.

Lemont Mayor Brian Reaves said in December the outlook for a ruling in the agency’s favor is good.

“It’s going to be in the court’s hands and the outlook is good for it,” Reaves said. “We have the eminent domain powers and I don’t know how that wouldn’t be in our favor.”

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