Homewood signs agreement in search for alternative water source

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Homewood signs agreement in search for alternative water source

January 12, 2017 - 20:38
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In a 5 to 1 vote Tuesday, Homewood’s Board of Trustees approved an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) to join 10 area municipalities in a search for an alternate method of obtaining Lake Michigan water rather than the existing route through the City of Chicago. Trustee Karen Washington cast the opposing vote.

Chicago has imposed hefty rate hikes in recent years: 25 percent in 2012 and 15 percent in 2013, 2014 and 2015. 

In presenting the resolution request, Village Manager Jim Marino explained that due to the history of escalating water rates imposed by the City of Chicago and the uncertainty of future rates increases, representatives of 11 communities, including Homewood, had met for several months to discuss a joint effort to seek an alternative water supply.

He said Robinson Engineering, based in South Holland, had performed a preliminary review of the costs to construct a water distribution system and anticipated water rates to end users. However, more engineering and cost analysis needs to be performed in order to determine if such a project is viable. Cost of the additional analyses amounts to $10,000 for each participating municipality.

In information provided to the board, Marino reported that Robinson Engineering’s preliminary estimate of the cost to build a new water supply system is $350 million.

“This is likely low,” he said, adding that a more accurate cost cannot be known unless the study is conducted. The construction timeline is estimated to be five years.

The option under consideration for an alternative water supply is to take water directly from Lake Michigan through a treatment plant and distribute it to participating communities. This would involve constructing water distribution lines which would need to be constructed in rights-of-way in Hammond, Ind. The system would be managed and operated by a water agency made of the participating communities. According to the IGA, the village of Olympia Fields would be lead agency during the project.

All of this would require the water agency to enter into an agreement with Hammond for the authority to use their rights-of-way and would involve paying that city an access fee.

However, Marino was clear that water would not be supplied by or purchased from Hammond. He said the water would be supplied to customers directly from the water agency.

He stated that representatives of three of the participating communities had met with Hammond’s mayor and his staff to discuss their willingness to grant right-of-way access.

“The mayor expressed interest and recently submitted a proposal,” Marino said. “The proposed study is needed in order to determine if this project would be financially feasible and if it would actually provide water rates less than what is expected to be charged by Chicago.”

Before the vote was taken, the board heard from Dan Injerd, director of the Office of Water Resources for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Injerd is a Homewood resident.

“Provision of good water is the most important thing a municipality can do,” he said. He commended the board in exploring the proposed option. “You are very wise to look at another option.”

But Injerd also cautioned them to very diligent and cautious.

“This is not an easy process,” he told board members. “It will be a challenge to get water from Lake Michigan through Indiana. It is a long-term process.”

“I think we are all of the same mind,” Mayor Richard Hofeld said. “We are looking for a safe and reliable source.”

The board had many questions prior to the vote. Washington was most vocal with her concerns, stating she was against the proposed project.

“I have many concerns,” she said. “I cannot in good conscience agree to this amount of money spent by Homewood. The timeframe of five years seems very short and the cost could very well balloon beyond the estimated $350 million.”

However, Trustee Barbara Dawkins said board members “would be remiss in not seeking an alternate source.”

Trustees Ann Colton, Larry Burnson and Jay Heiferman stated they would approve the initial $10,000, but would not commit to anything beyond that.

Burnson said he agreed to the amount in order to move forward.

“We need the information provided by the study in order to make a decision on the next step,” he said.

Heiferman agreed.

“If they say $350 million, it's going to be $700 million project," he said. “I can support the $10,000, but beyond that, unless there we hear some really strong evidence that this could actually be something that will be safe, reliable and lower costs 
― that would affect how I would see it going forward."

With the IGA approved, Homewood joins Calumet Park, Country Club Hills, East Hazel Crest,  Flossmoor, Hazel Crest, Markham, Matteson, Olympia Fields, South Holland and Thornton in the search for an alternate water supply. Flossmoor’s village board approved the IGA on Dec. 19.


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