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Local News

More trouble bubbles up in Joliet water search

What was supposed to be the home stretch in a long process to select Joliet’s future source of water is starting to look like a muddy track, and it became muddier Wednesday.

The general manager for the DuPage Water Commission said the agency does not want to be considered among the city’s options as a supplier of water.

And a member of the Joliet Environmental Commission who has been critical of the process at a few points along the way filed ethics complaints with the city against officials and engineering consultants involved in developing cost estimates for the project.

The Environmental Commission is supposed to make a recommendation for a future water source when it meets Tuesday. The plan is for the Joliet City Council to make a decision Jan. 7. On Thursday, the city will hold a public forum on the water plans from 5 to 7 p.m. at Cantigny VFW Post 367 at 826 Horseshoe Drive.

Trouble began to surface Nov. 25, when the chairman of the DuPage Water Commission sent a letter to Joliet officials objecting to cost estimates assigned to that agency in a recently completed water study.

The DuPage Water Commission did not respond to Joliet’s formal Requests for Information in the development of the cost estimate, which is noted in the study.

But DuPage officials contend the study overstates potential costs by at least $100 million and could hurt the agency in discussions with other communities interested in buying water.

John Spatz, general manager for the DuPage Water Commission, said Wednesday that the agency has declined Joliet’s invitation to discuss the numbers.

“To discuss the basis for those numbers after you already made those numbers public is not a real lot of use at this point,” Spatz said.

Spatz said his agency on Wednesday asked Joliet a second time to remove the DuPage cost estimates from the study.

He also said DuPage “does not want to be considered as an alternate water source supplier” in Joliet’s plans.

Spatz said DuPage officials assumed the agency would not be included in the study when it chose not to respond to the city’s Request for Information.

At the City Council meeting Tuesday, Joliet Utilities Director Allison Swisher defended the method used to develop the cost estimates, saying it was consistently applied and depended only in a small part on information from the potential suppliers.

“We are confident that the evaluation process is correct,” Swisher said, adding that the DuPage criticism of the estimate “did not indicate any specific issues in the analysis.”

Swisher said the DuPage Water Commission was believed to be interested in being a water supplier when the cost estimates were compiled.

After Swisher’s comments, John Hertko, a member of the Environmental Commission, told the council he believed “fraud” was committed by including DuPage numbers in the study.

On Wednesday, Hertko filed ethics complaints with the Joliet City Clerk’s Office, naming Swisher, interim City Manager Steve Jones and three engineering firms involved in the process of developing cost estimates.

Jones sent an email calling Hertko’s complaint “a baseless ethics charge” and said, “Many professionals from city staff and their consulting firms have provided a thorough, diligent and honest effort to guide the community to a historic decision regarding water.”

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