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Local News

Okon: Before it was water, but now it's money

Jim Mladic had some tough acts to follow when he rose to speak at the Joliet public forum on the potentially billion-dollar plan for a new source of water for the city.

The speakers who preceded him included two members of the city’s Environmental Commission, a former candidate for City Council and a retired city chemist.

“I never worked for the city. I’m not on any committee. I’m a taxpayer,” Mladic said, almost as if to justify speaking.

But the forum was held to help the taxpayers, water bill payers and average people get a closer look at what the city of Joliet is doing as it switches from the deep wells that have served the city since 1907 and looks for water from Lake Michigan, the Illinois River or possibly even the Kankakee River (although city staff is recommending against the last option).

The problem is no one was paying very much attention until word got around that the switch will eventually cause water bills to double or even to triple, depending on which course the city takes.

This was pointed out by Damon Zdunich, a former City Council candidate who was one of the speakers who preceded Mladic, on Nov. 13 when the city released a 620-page report that for the first time put out the potential costs of the project.

Wayne Horne, a member of the Environmental Commission that is supposed to make a recommendation on Tuesday as to which course to take, was another one of the speakers who preceded Mladic.

This week, Horne told the City Council it was “ludicrous” to expect the commission to make a recommendation four weeks after the release of the report with numbers everyone in town is trying to digest.

“The public saw a billion dollars and fainted,” Horne said.

“The public has to understand what we’re getting into,” he said.

Both Horne and John Hertko – another member of the Environmental Commission and another one of the speakers who preceded Mladic – have complained about waiting too close to decision time to see the cost estimates that the city consulting team prepared.

“You should understand we are very comfortable with the cost estimates in that study,” Joe Johnson, one of the consulting engineers, said at the forum.

“There’s an exhaustive set of data used in developing the costs,” Johnson said.

Johnson was discussing this week’s controversy over the cost estimates assigned to the DuPage Water Commission, which now are being deleted from the 620-page report.

The schedule, if everyone sticks to it, is for the City Council to decide how Joliet will get water, for perhaps the remainder of the century, on Jan. 7.

One of the other speakers who preceded Mladic was Kathy Nassios, who, like him, had no special credentials other than being a resident and taxpayer.

Nassios’ message: “Please delay the vote on this project and allow more resident input.”

• Bob Okon is a longtime Herald-News reporter. He can be reached at 815-280-4121 or bokon@shawmedia.com.

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