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Will County water agency pulls eminent domain suit over 'procedural' issues

Published: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 12:26 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 9:51 p.m. CDT
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The five communities trying to seize a water pipeline from a private utility company have pulled a lawsuit seeking eminent domain, but plan on re-filing the lawsuit in April.

The Northern Will County Water Agency's legal team is asking the five communities that make up the agency – Bolingbrook, Homer Glen, Woodridge, Lemont and Romeoville – to approve a revised ordinance that addresses "procedural" issues with the first lawsuit, according to agency attorney Jim Boan.

"One of the issues we asked ourselves is whether the agency, in conjunction with the five communities, has the power to seek eminent domain on its own as the sole plaintiff, or whether all the communities need to be plaintiffs in [the lawsuit] as well," Boan said. "There is no clear answer to that so we decided from a litigation standpoint to take the argument off the table."

Each municipality will be asked to approve the revised intergovernmental agreement at upcoming board meetings, he said, adding that the agency hopes to have this completed and file a new lawsuit by the end of April.

The Northern Will County Water Agency filed the eminent domain suit after American Lake Water Company – Illinois American Water's parent company – rejected a $36.6 million offer to purchase the 30-mile Bedford Park pipeline in October 2012.

It's unclear if any of the communities' membership in the agency is at risk, as the new ordinance comes before village boards composed of new members since the original agreement was first approved by each in 2010.

In Woodridge, there are four new members on the village board since the agreement was approved in 2010. Two of those new board members expressed opposition to being a part of the agency at a recent board meeting.

When voting 4-2 to approve a separate, revised intergovernmental agreement with the water agency at a meeting on Thursday, trustees Greg Abbott and Mike Martinez were vocal in their opposition to Woodridge's role in the agency.

"To me, it's not right for governments to come together and basically take another utility company's pipeline because we don't like the way they're running businesses," Abbott said before he and Martinez voted against the revised agreement.

In an emailed statement from Illinois American Water, senior manager Michael A. Smyth called on the agency's communities to re-examine their efforts.

"Before refiling the case and using more taxpayer dollars, we believe it is time the agency present a proposal to our customers on how they will reduce rates given eminent domain has proven to be costly and a time-consuming legal process," Smyth wrote.

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Agency says it can lower water rates

The mayors of the five agency towns contend that their ownership of the pipeline would result in lower water bills, though the agency has yet to propose how it can do that.

The lawsuit 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 effort is in response to IAW's continued water rate hikes that have brought the cost of water to "unprecedented levels," according to the agency.

Obtaining ownership of the pipeline from the privately owned water company would “eliminate the profit motive inherent in private ownership,” the lawsuit states.

IAW contends the agency has cost taxpayers "over $1 million" in growing legal costs and the company has challenged the water agency to present a business plan for water services that would result in lower rates.

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