Plans for a new water system struggle to stay afloat
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org August 2, 2014 2:16PM
Alsip officials apparently are split on whether to pursue a project to get Lake Michigan water via Hammond. | File photo
Updated: September 5, 2014 6:19AM
Though Alsip Mayor Patrick Kitching remains a staunch supporter of the effort to build a new water system with five other communities, not all officials in his village are on board.
At Monday’s village board meeting, Trustee John Ryan wants to discuss Alsip’s continuation in the project.
“The concept was fine, but it turned into a bad deal,” Ryan said.
The South Suburban Joint Action Water Agency, or JAWA, was formed by seven towns to seek relief from Chicago’s escalating water rates in the belief that they could provide the same water for less money.
Calumet Park withdrew in May, and Midlothian and Blue Island officials said they will not commit any more money to the project to install new pipelines for Lake Michigan water via Hammond, Indiana, to serve their towns.
JAWA chairman David Webb, who’s also mayor of Markham, said they have discussed bringing in new members.
“We will not turn anyone away who wants to join,” he said.
At the Thursday JAWA meeting, four of the six members present passed a $7 million appropriations ordinance after their public hearing was delayed an hour, waiting for Kitching to show up to establish a quorum.
At a time when decisions must be made to advance the $300 million pipeline project, the group has struggled to get all members to attend.
Robbins has not shown up for several months. Mayor Tyrone Ward declined to comment on his absence or the viability of the project, saying only, “I have not been involved.”
A representative from Harvey, which has nearly 40 percent of the potential water users in the group, has not shown up since the city and its comptroller, Joseph Letke, were charged with fraud in June by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Letke is still listed as the financial consultant for JAWA and he submitted a June bill for $8,500 for his services.
In the absence of its treasurer, Harvey representative Donald Nesbit, the JAWA board decided not to pay any of its bills.
“With issues going on with the SEC, it would not be wise to approve any bills without the treasurer’s oversight,” JAWA’s legal counsel Michael Stillman said.
Two weeks ago, PNC Bank informed JAWA that it was pulling out and would no longer back its bonds, allowing the agency 90 days to find a new bank.
The board also tabled the treasurer’s report at its May meeting, according to the minutes, even though Nesbit was present.
Calls to Nesbit and Harvey Mayor Eric Kellogg were not returned.
Despite the setbacks, Webb, like Kitching, remains committed to the project and said he plans to keep moving forward.
“Anything this large is not going to be easy. We ran into a brick wall, but we plan to get around it,” Webb said after the meeting.
“Sometimes you have to regroup. We are in the stages of regrouping,” he said, but declined to be specific on what ideas the group has for keeping the project afloat.
The four members present unanimously approved the appropriations ordinance, allowing for expenditures of $7 million in fiscal year 2015. That amount assumes the board will issue an additional $3.5 million in bonds.
Blue Island and Midlothian officials said they are opposed to spending more taxpayer money.
JAWA has spent $2.8 million of a $5.6 million bond issue and needs $3.5 million more to complete engineering work to move the project forward.
At its July 17 meeting, with four of six members present, the board voted 2-2 and failed to proceed with additional engineering work, which includes soil boring in the lake, which can only be done in the summer months. A one-year delay could jeopardize the agreement members have negotiated, but not yet signed, with Hammond, for lakewater access.
Webb said he may bring that back for a vote when more members are present.