Calumet Park exits group seeking to get water via Hammond
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org June 10, 2014 7:56PM
Updated: July 12, 2014 6:16AM
As a group of Southland towns says it is closing in on a deal to get Lake Michigan water from Hammond instead of Chicago, one of its members has withdrawn.
Members of the South Suburban Joint Area Water Agency recently voted 6 to 1 to allow Calumet Park to withdraw, six months after it submitted its request.
Fed up with Chicago’s rising water rates, the group formed in 2012 and borrowed $5.5 million to find out what it would cost to create their own pipeline system and obtain Lake Michigan water from Hammond. But that feasibility study has been turned over to a new firm, a lawsuit has been filed and now Calumet Park is out.
“I have concerns about the group being able to get the job done financially,” said Calumet Park Mayor Ronald Denson, who had served as the agency’s vice chairman. “I have financial concerns with some of the partners.”
The mayor said he is concerned that if one community defaulted, the other partners would have to figure out how to pay for it.
“I am unhappy with Chicago’s rates, but at least I know what it will cost me,” Denson said. With the South Suburban Joint Area Water Agency, he said he is “not sure what it will cost or if it will happen.
“They said it would take one year to get the costs, and after two years, we still do not know the cost,” Denson said. “I’m not sure how long I can wait on JAWA.”
He said his village board unanimously agreed to withdraw from this project.
The loss of Calumet Park will not affect the viability of the project, because it was the smallest water user in the agency, according to the group’s attorney, Michael Stillman. Calumet Park’s share represented less than 3.78 percent of the cost, while Harvey is the largest water customer, with 39 percent.
Other partners are Alsip, Blue Island, Markham, Midlothian and Robbins.
According to a Sun-Times article in September, Harvey, which has been beset with financial challenges, owed the city of Chicago $15.3 million in unpaid water bills.
Denson said his town will pay its share of the $5.5 million bond issue that was used to bankroll the feasibility study. That share totals $210,000.
Calumet Park’s withdrawal is just one in a series of snags in the past two years.
“There have been a lot of challenges,” Stillman said.
Agency members now are realizing that the initial $5.5 million may not be enough to finish the feasibility study. But Stillman said it may be possible to refinance the existing bonds and get enough money to finish the study.
The agency’s board also terminated its contract with Postl-Yore and Associates, the firm doing the feasibility study, which has resulted in a lawsuit. Robinson Engineering has been hired to complete the task, Stillman said.
He admits this has been a “painfully slow” process but said they are close to signing an agreement with Hammond and will schedule two public forums to review the plan in the near future.
“People think we are dragging our feet. They do not realize how hard this is,” Stillman said.