Amended water deal with Monmouth approved, by Galesburg
by Mike Kroll
On a seven-to-one vote the Galesburg City Council finally approved a 40-year contract to sell water to Monmouth Tuesday night after spirited discussion and an amendment that removed the five percent per year cap on future rate increases. Although the water contract was simultaneously on the agenda of the Monmouth City Council they did not choose to take formal action prior to approval by Galesburg. At a meeting in July, the Galesburg City Council previously approved a new set of "raw water" rates that set the initial cost of water for Monmouth.
Monmouth officials must now decide to either accept this contract or go with one of two other alternatives open to them, reverse osmosis treatment of their present well water or construction of their own pipeline and wells to a better aquifer. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will not permit Monmouth to continue the status quo with the present wells due to radium levels well in excess of state and federal standards. Both of the alternatives would be more costly than the anticipated expenses of accepting the Galesburg contract with the latter being considerably more costly.
Under the contract Monmouth would branch off the Galesburg pipeline at a T connector already in place north of that community and bring the water to a plant (yet to be constructed) for final treatment prior to pumping into Monmouths existing water system. At the estimated daily water usage of 2.6 million gallons Monmouth would pay Galesburg approximately $580,000 annually for the water used. Additionally, the contract requires Monmouth to pay $1.9 million dollars toward construction of a new Ranney collector at the Oquawka plant that would expand the plants maximum pumping capacity and improve efficiency.
As presented to the Galesburg City Council by City Manager Gary Goddard the two big advantages of this contract come from Monmouth essentially splitting the cost of this new Ranney collector that would eventually have been constructed anyway and the added revenue that will assist in paying for a second parallel pipeline to the Oquawka plant. According to Goddards figures there should be at least a $200,000 annual difference between the added costs of providing water to Monmouth and the fees paid for that water.
But throughout this issue there has been considerable discussion of contract provisions and Tuesday night was no exception. "There are just too many things about this contract that bothers me," stated Fifth Ward Councilmember Karen Lafferty. "My number one focus has always been to protect the interests of the in-city water users while still finding a way to sell water to Monmouth," explained Councilmember Rick Sundberg of the Seventh Ward and the most vocal council critic of contract provisions.
Two aldermen, Monte Gifford and Wayne Allen have been the City Managers biggest cheerleaders in pushing this contract toward approval. Despite some early concerns about the rate structure Allen (Ward 6) quickly came around to join Gifford (Ward 3) in supporting Goddards proposed contract language without pause. Others, such as First Ward Alderman Mike Spah considered some of the criticism of the contract but concluded, "I think it is important that we do this contractotherwise we simply guarantee that the citizens of Galesburg will pay for the entire cost of both the new Ranney collector and the new pipeline."
Admitting he continued to have reservations with other points within the Goddard contract proposal Sundberg acknowledged that only one point was so serious he could not live with it. He moved to strike the five percent cap and Lafferty immediately seconded the motion. After some more discussion the vote was five to two (with Gifford and Allen opposed) to remove the cap.
Councilmember Tony Gerk shared some of the concerns of Lafferty and Sundberg, especially the notion of a 40-year contract with no option for earlier change absent mutual consent. Gerk initially proposed an amendment that would have mandated that city officials of both communities meet every ten years to discuss contract issues. But the language Gerk proposed did nothing to force contract changes at these ten-year intervals and other council members pointed out this flaw.
Apparently Gerk either saw no advantage to a ten-year renewable contract or was convinced by someone else that such a short term was a non-starter. After Mayor Bob Sheehan, another supporter of the original Goddard proposal, called for a short recess so Gerk could reword his proposed amendment the Fourth Ward alderman declined to bring the issue back when the council came back into session. When the amended contract came up for the final vote only Gerk dissented.
Time remains critical for Monmouth. That city must replace its existing water source before 2004 by IEPA mandate. Monmouth has already missed a number of earlier deadlines and much engineering and planning remains to be completed before construction can commence. There is also the issue of paying for this very expensive project, currently estimated at a minimum of $8-9 million that Monmouth does not have. Whatever action they take will depend greatly on obtaining financial assistance from the IEPA at the same time that hundreds of other Illinois cities and towns face nearly identical water quality issues.
The City of Monmouth, through Mayor Jack Reitman, announced Wednesday that they are breaking off negotiations with Galesburg over the purchase of water. Eliminating the five percent cap was "the last straw," he declared. They will, instead, look at an ion-exchange system.