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Public Meeting Gets Hostile as IAW, Water Agency Butt Heads

Officials of the Illinois American Water and the Northern Will County Water Agency clashed, again, at a meeting of the water agency Monday.

illinois American Water vs. the Northern Will County Water Agency.

The two sides clashed, again, at a Northern Will County Water Agency meeting Monday. Homer Glen Mayor Jim Daley asked those with a tie to IAW in the audience to identify themselves. He cut off an IAW rep during the "Questions from the Public" section, saying "this was not a commercial" and "we've heard this all before." 

Both sides accused the other of misinforming the public. Mayor Claar said the IAW had been furthering its "lies" and "falsehoods" for years.

Prior to the meeting, IAW distributed flyers urging residents in Homer Glen to attend the meeting to "ask for answers." The IAW said the water agency would more likely raise water rates than lower them and the cost of eminent takeover could be triple the amount the agency expected. 

The basics 

The Northern Will County Water Agency wants to acquire the Bedford Park transmission line from IAW. It plans to do so through purchase or eminent domain. The water agency consists of Bolingbrook, Homer Glen, Lemont, Romeoville and .

However, residents in Bolingbrook make up 78 percent of those in the five communities who will be affected by the change, according to an IAW representative. Homer Glen residents make up about 21 percent, and Lemont, Romeoville and Woodridge make up the other 1 percent. 

A $34 million offer 

The water agency offered IAW $34 million for the pipeline on Aug. 3. If that bid was to be accepted, Bolingbrook would pay 78 percent of the amount; Homer Glen 21 percent. Romeoville, Woodridge and Lemont would split the rest. 

Homer Glen recently authorized the issuance of $25 million in bonds to contribute its $8.8 million. 

Bolingbrook Village Attorney Jim Boan said a "tight range" for the value of the offer was decided upon following "various methodologies." From that range, the agency decided upon $34 million. 

The water agency argument

IAW has been a "poor operator" for years, inflicting continual water rate increases on its customers for its own profits. The most recent increase will up a basic service charge from 26 to 45 percent, "a way to figure out how to get more profits," according to Bolingbrook Mayor Roger Claar. 

The company has peddled "lies" and "falsehoods" in local publications in an attempt to gain community support for IAW, but most residents say, "Go for it," Claar said. "We need a better operator."

The water agency wants to aquire a pipeline to lower water bills for residents. 

The IAW argument 

The water agency represents several significant risks to taxpayers. Its oversight of water rates would not be regulated. The water agency agreement represents a 40-year monopoly in which villages are locked into a "no-turning-back commitment."

Eminent domain is an expensive, risky process which will waste time and moeny. Rates may increase. Communities could end up paying triple the $34 million to acquire the pipeline through eminent domain. The final price will be determined in court. 

The water agency cannot significantly lower water bills for residents. While the water agency promises to lower rates, because they are acquiring the pipeline and not the distribution system, they can only affect water bills $1.29 per 1,000 gallons of water, which is less than 10 percent of a resident's water bill.

IAW's ads and flyers are educating the public. The IAW further fleshes out its argument on the site ChicagoMetroWaterFacts.com

What's next 

Michael Smyth, a senior manager in the company’s Chicago metro division, has repeatedly said IAW is "not for sale." Following its $34 million bid for the pipeline on Aug. 3, the water agency received a response on Aug. 31 -- a request from the attorneys at IAW for more information. 

Bolingbrook Mayor Roger Claar said this was another one of IAW's "stalling tactics." 

Smyth said IAW is committed to a productive resolution of the matter. Homer Glen Mayor Jim Daley said the communities have tried "everything within their limits." The IAW has failed to provide a reasonable franchise agreement and "this is what it has come to." 

"We're going to see this through," Daley said. 

Meeting notice, time controversy 

The fact that Monday's meeting was held at 11 a.m. raised the ire of IAW officials. Why not have the meetings at night so more people could attend? 

Claar said that he had no qualms with meeting at night, though many county boards meet during the day, as well. The timing was not intentioned to exclude residents. 

Also under question was how the meeting was publicized. IAW officials said they were unable to find notice of the meeting in major local newspapers or on the communities' websites. 

Daley said notice of the meeting was posted in Homer Glen's Village Hall but not on its website. It was also sent to three publications that cover Homer Glen. 

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