Evanston water negotiations delayed as villages explore new option

Julia Jacobs, City Editor

Evanston’s ongoing water negotiations with three nearby communities — which were speeding up in recent weeks — have been delayed as Niles and Morton Grove explore an alternative option to building a new water pipeline to Evanston.

Niles and Morton Grove are considering purchasing Evanston water through Skokie’s water line instead of constructing a new water main, said Dave Stoneback, the director of Evanston’s Public Works Agency, at Monday’s City Council meeting. Although getting water through Skokie means Niles and Morton Grove no longer have to spend $115 million to build the new pipeline, the water cost for the communities would be higher than if they received water straight from Evanston, he said.

“I just don’t think that’s a very feasible alternative, but they are looking at that,” Stoneback said.

This diversion from the much-discussed plan to construct a water line to Evanston has also stymied Park Ridge’s entrance into contract negotiations with Evanston, Niles and Morton Grove on the original project.

Park Ridge officials had been asked to decide by July 1 whether to join the other two communities in constructing a pipeline to deliver water from Evanston, but city officials said they needed more time to ensure the cost-effectiveness of the plan. Despite Park Ridge’s continued uncertainty through the summer, the plan to buy water from Evanston progressed with Niles and Morton Grove.

Park Ridge acting Mayor Marty Maloney told The Daily that Park Ridge aldermen were ready to vote on joining contract negotiations on Monday before the city manager received a letter last week suspending the current discussion with Niles and Morton Grove.

The email, signed by the project manager working with Niles and Morton Grove, notified Park Ridge that the cities are now considering an alternative option to building a new water line to Evanston. Without disclosing specifics, project manager Bill Balling said in the email that the option could potentially offset or reduce the capital costs of getting Evanston water.

Maloney told The Daily that Park Ridge City Council would likely have voted to approve funds to join negotiations, but Thursday’s email brought the progress to a “screeching halt.”

“It really threw everyone for a curve,” Maloney said. “No one wants to be spending time and money to investigate or flesh out the details of a project we might not be involved in.”

Balling told The Daily he could not confirm whether the alternative plans mentioned in the email involve receiving Evanston water through the Skokie line.

However, Balling said it is unclear whether the alternative pipeline would have the capacity to include Park Ridge’s water demand. Although information on the alternative line is not complete, they felt it was fair to alert Park Ridge to the possibility of a new direction for the project, Balling said.

“Of course, if these investigations lead the Morton Grove and Niles team to identify an option that would enable Park Ridge to also be served, we would be happy to discuss with Park Ridge the option of becoming (a) participant in the team,” Balling wrote in the email.

Maloney said when Park Ridge’s city manager Shawn Hamilton reached out to Balling, he said he would not give further information on the potential water plan.

“I understand that those cities are trying to get the best deal possible for their residents, but I wish they were sharing that information with Park Ridge,” Maloney told The Daily.

Evanston has been in talks for years with surrounding municipalities seeking a cheaper alternative to Chicago water, which has reached $3.81 per thousand gallons, having risen a minimum of 15 percent each of the past five years. Evanston’s price is about $0.92 per thousand gallons.

If all three cities agreed to help construct a new water line, Park Ridge would provide about $47 million toward the project, the largest contribution considering it is the farthest distance from Evanston among the three cities. Park Ridge is projected to save $113 million over 40 years, with Niles and Morton Grove saving even more over the same time period.

Stoneback, who attended Park Ridge’s City Council meeting last week, expressed to Evanston aldermen that the city would likely join on to the original plan.

“Park Ridge is actually sounding very interested in becoming part of the group with Morton Grove and Niles to study getting water from them as well,” Stoneback said at Evanston City Council’s Monday meeting. “They’re about a year behind the other communities, but they seem to be interested in catching up quickly.”

However, Maloney said Park Ridge’s own Monday City Council meeting was inconclusive. Park Ridge will wait to see the outcome of Niles’ and Morton Grove’s alternative option before making another move, he said.

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