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Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008 12:27 am

Troubled waters

CWLP rate request clouds second lake proposal

Untitled Document During a budget hearing last week, Ward 1 Ald. Frank Edwards sat dumbfounded as City Water, Light & Power general manager Todd Renfrow announced to the aldermen that the water department was in dire need of infrastructure improvements — a project that would cost $84.4 million and require a four-tiered water-rate increase. Edwards says it was the first aldermen had heard about a new increase since CWLP increased water rates by 24 percent in 2003. He wasn’t impressed, he adds, when Renfrow told them that a major reason for the latest rate-hike was the need to replace the 70-plus-year-old pump house at a cost of $67.5 million.
“They were saying that it’s a 70-year-old problem,” Edwards says. “So, when you guys raised the rates three years ago, didn’t you know about it? And if you didn’t know about it, why not?”
Even though Renfrow stressed that Springfield’s new water rates would be phased in and still compare favorably with those in other cities, Edwards and the other aldermen were concerned with the steep increases. According to CWLP’s proposal, water rates would eventually double, jumping by 24 percent on March 1; 20 percent on Sept. 1; 14 percent on March 1, 2009; and 11.5 percent on Sept. 1, 2009. Because a majority of the aldermen were dissatisfied with the last-minute initiative, they asked Renfrow to come up with other feasible options, including stretching out the rate increase over more than two years. CWLP spokeswoman Amber Sabin says that Renfrow will present two or more budgets — the first a maintenance budget without a water-rate increase and the others including various levels of infrastructure improvements and upgrades — during a second hearing, tentatively scheduled for Feb. 13. Edwards says the entire conversation doesn’t bode well for the city’s Hunter Lake plans, especially since the 7,128 acres set aside for the second reservoir can be sold to offset the costs of the water-treatment plant’s infrastructure improvements. “There’s been this whole discussion about spending all this money on Hunter Lake and talking about putting water in reservoir,” Edwards says, “but we haven’t been talking about getting water from the present lake into the plant. “It’s kind of ass-backwards.”
The Citizens Club of Springfield recently held a public forum to address Springfield’s future water needs, and several notable city leaders and water experts discussed the pros and cons of building Hunter Lake. Former Springfield Mayor Mike Houston told the audience that the city shouldn’t abandon its second-lake plans after spending between $27 million and $30 million and 18 years on the project. Michael Ayers, executive vice president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, joined Houston as a Hunter Lake proponent and said that residents should consider the lake before other alternatives because it’s the only option with a deadline.
“What Hunter Lake does provide us is a resource, and a good one, for economic growth and development, for recreation, for water supply — and, simultaneously, one that guarantees us a future with all of the other alternatives still there,” Ayers said. “If you take it away, then we’re driven to the other alternatives.”
Clark Bullard, a professor of engineering at the University of Illinois, argued against Hunter Lake from an environmental standpoint, saying that its design would cause shoreline erosion, water stagnation, pollution from agrichemicals, and the need for periodic dredging. Donald Hanrahan, of Citizens for Sensible Water Use, also spoke as a Hunter Lake opponent, accusing the city of relying on flawed data and suggesting that officials consider the gravel pits under the Sangamon River as a better, cheaper alternative. “To destroy beautiful land is hard to take when alternatives are staring us in the face,” Hanrahan said. Ironically, Hanrahan also mentioned that the money saved could be used for much-needed infrastructure improvements. The forum will be broadcast at 8 p.m. Friday on WSEC-TV (Channel 14), Springfield’s PBS station.  
Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.
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