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Water agency set to re-file eminent domain suit

Published: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 11:50 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, July 25, 2014 4:41 a.m. CDT

The Northern Will County Water Agency is preparing to re-file its eminent domain suit to take control of the water pipeline owned by private utility American Lake Water Company.

Four of the agency's five member communities approved an ordinance that addresses "procedural" issues with the first lawsuit, according to agency attorney Jim Boan, clearing the way for the suit to be re-filed.

Lemont and Romeoville approved the ordinances April 14 and April 16, respectively, while Bolingbrook and Homer Glen approved it Tuesday night.

In Woodridge, the vote could be closer as the board will hear the ordinance on Thursday.

The Woodridge Village Board voted narrowly – 4 to 2 – in March to approve a revised intergovernmental agreement with the water agency. Woodridge 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.

But the board's vote on Thursday is essentially meaningless, as Woodridge's membership in the agency is sealed, according to Jim Boan, the water agency's lead attorney.

Boan said if a majority – three of the five – of the member communities approve the ordinance, the water agency can move forward with re-filing the suit.

"The statute only requires the majority of the agency," Boan said. "If Woodridge chose not to approve [the intergovernmental agreement], they would still be part of the agency."

The ordinance allows each of the agency's member towns to be listed as individual plaintiffs in the eminent domain suit. Previously, the suit listed only the agency's name – an issue that could have been a potential legal argument for American Lake Water Company, according to Boan.

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 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 effort is in response to continued water rate hikes from Illinois American Water – a sister company of American Lake Water – 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.

In a statement emailed to Suburban Life Media, IAW questioned the water agency's accountability.

"Eminent domain will continue to be a time-consuming, expensive process for all communities involved, as we have said for the past seven years. We continue to disagree with the course of action the agency has chosen to take because it’s not in the best interests or our customers," the statement read. ____

Water agency approves budget

The Northern Will County Water Agency met on April 7, approving an estimated $562,900 budget for May to December.

The estimated expenditures are broken down per town:

Bolingbrook: $442,940 (78.7 percent)

Homer Glen: $115,653 (20.5 percent)

Woodridge: $3,850 (.684 percent)

Lemont: $332 (.059 percent)

Romeoville: $123 (.022 percent)

Source: Northern Will County Water Agency

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