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Cloudy waters ahead in battle for IAW pipeline

Published: Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013 1:41 p.m. CDT

BOLINGBROOK – The Northern Will County Water Agency briefly held a quarterly meeting on Dec. 9, approving expenditures and digging its heels in for an expected legal battle as it attempts to take over a privately owned water pipeline.

Entrenched in an ongoing struggle to gain control of the 30-mile Bedford Park transmission pipeline from the privately held company Illinois American Water, the agency approved $80,000 in legal and engineering fees during a 10-minute public meeting on Dec. 9.

During the previous quarterly meeting in September, the agency heads approved a $662,500 budget, $521,000 of which was covered by Bolingbrook.

Comprised of Bolingbrook, Romeoville, Lemont, Homer Glen and Woodridge, the Northern Will County Water Agency was formed in order to purchase and take over the pipeline, which distributes water to some if not many of the residences in the five towns.

Last January, the agency filed an eminent domain lawsuit after Illinois American Water refused the agency’s offer of $37.5 million to purchase the pipeline.

The agency has accused the company of hiking rates for profit during the last decade, and if the eminent domain is granted, the governing bodies have the power to seize private property without the owner’s consent.

However, the eminent case is not expected to go to court until 2014 or early 2015.

At the Dec. 9 meeting, Bolingbrook Mayor Roger Claar prepared residents for an even lengthier legal battle once it does reach the courts.

“It is going to be a slow process,” Claar said. “But that’s what you have when you have an unwilling seller.”

Representatives of Illinois American Water declined comment on the status of the legal proceedings, but IAW Senior Manager of Field Services and Production Michael Smyth hypothesized that the longer the eminent domain case takes, the more money it will cost the agency and the taxpayers it represents.

“Agency expenditures since June of 2012 could reach over a million dollars by next year,” Smyth said.

Smyth also countered stating that the agency has yet to specifically detail how they will lower residents’ water bills.

“We have heard over and over again from our customers about their desire for a plan from their elected officials, yet no plan has been offered by Agency members,” Smyth said. “They continue to spend taxpayer dollars which is an absolute disservice to our customers and the residents of the water agency communities.”

Bolingbrook, which has shouldered 80 percent of the approved expenditures, is also “exploring” a seizure of the local infrastructure that comes from the main pipeline. It too is owned by IAW.

The process will begin once Bolingbrook receives financial and infrastructural information from Illinois American Water, according to Bolingbrook Village Attorney Jim Boan.

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