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Pamphlet is latest barb between utility company, water agency

Published: Friday, May 17, 2013 9:52 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, July 25, 2014 4:48 a.m. CDT

LEMONT – “Did you know you’re paying for Lake Michigan water?”

That was the question posed to 11,500 households in Lemont via a pamphlet recently distributed by utility company Illinois American Water in response to an eminent domain lawsuit filed against IAW in January.

The suit was filed by the Northern Will County Joint Action Water Agency – made up of officials from the villages of Lemont, Homer Glen, Bolingbrook, Woodridge and Romeoville – and the pamphlet is the latest quarrel between the two groups as the agency attempts to seize the pipeline that brings Lake Michigan water to the suburbs.

It accused the water agency of misleading residents and involving the municipalities in an endeavor that IAW predicts could cost as much as five times the agency’s $37.5 million estimate.

It also angered the mayors and officials who make up the water agency, including Lemont Mayor Brian Reaves.

“These fliers are an attempt to create controversy,” Reaves said Tuesday at a Village Board meeting. “Illinois American’s propaganda distorts the facts.”

Reaves also assured residents that no general obligation bonds will be used in the pipeline acquisition attempt, and residents will not pay anything unless they are served by IAW.

“The water agency has no taxing authority,” he said. “It is false to imply that the water agency could adopt a sales tax.”

But Michael Smyth, senior manager of field services and production at IAW, claims the water agency does have taxing authority.

“They are spending residents’ tax dollars on this effort without telling them a plan,” Smyth said.

Municipalities will pay for a percentage of the suit’s legal costs, Reaves said in a separate interview.

Those payments will be taken out of village tax dollars and reimbursed by the water agency through revenue bonds planned to be issued at a later date.

The agency has made IAW two good-faith offers to acquire the pipeline, Reaves said, but IAW has refused to negotiate.

“We’re not for sale,” Smyth added.

IAW charges $1.56 per 10,000 gallons of water used. Its 11-year rate average is $1.23.

Reaves believes there will be a rate stabilization if the pipeline is obtained by the water agency.

He specified that any of the water agency’s expenditures related to the suit are based on the number of IAW water connections within each agency municipality. A total of 17 connections are in Lemont.

These connections make the village liable to cover one-tenth of a percent of total agency spending. Lemont has spent $300 on the suit thus far, Reaves said.

“In my opinion, the village of Lemont will never spend over $5,000 (for the acquisition of the pipeline),” Reaves said.

The pamphlet is just the latest in a long series of tradebacks between the water agency and the water utility company.

In another set of back-and-forths, IAW criticized the group for holding meetings outside of the public eye, on Monday mornings, at times inconvenient for residents.

The next meeting of the water agency is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday, June 10, at the Romeoville Village Hall.

Lemont's role in pipeline take-over

Just 1 percent of Lemont households – 17 – are served by Illinois American Water, while the remaining 99 percent are served by wells, according to Mayor Brian Reaves.

Lemont originally joined the agency due to a state statute mandate, Reaves said, but its presence in the organization is also meant to be a demonstration of solidarity with Homer Glen and Bolingbrook, the communities most impacted by the eminent domain suit.

“It's outrageous what IAW is charging,” Reaves added.

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