Water issue resolved

What looked to be a lengthy meeting to discuss water line extensions to residents of the Vandalia Lake area turned out to be nothing much more than a brief informational meeting.
Monday’s meeting was called by Mayor Rick Gottman to deal with complaints some lake area residents voiced last Monday about the city blocking Fayette Water’s extension of water lines to their homes.
What those residents, and city aldermen, found out on Monday is that the city really has nothing to do with those water lines.
After kicking off the meeting, Gottman turned it over to Ryan Connor, an attorney with Burnside, Johnston, Connor and Jensen, the local law firm that serves as the city’s legal counsel.
Residents showed up at last week’s city council meeting last Monday as a result of the council’s rejection of an easement request from Fayette Water Co.
After that meeting, Connor explained, the issue was resolved.
“It turns out it (rejecting the easement request) was a good thing,” Connor said.
“After that last meeting, we came to learn a couple of things that makes it extremely valuable that you did not grant that easement to Fayette Water.
“You don’t have that easement to grant,” he said. “The ground at issue belongs to Sharon Township, so Fayette Water has already secured an easement from Sharon Township to run water to the affected homeowners who spoke at the last meeting.
“So, luckily, you didn’t grant something that you had no authority to grant,” he told aldermen.
“Secondarily, we are also lucky that we did not contemplate a repurchase agreement for something (infrastructure) that, will again, be part of a probably larger annexation plan that was discussed at the last meeting,” Connor said.
He told aldermen, “The city is now really faced with one issue” and that they didn’t “need to do anything.”
Local attorney Rick Myers, legal counsel for Fayette Water, told aldermen that the water company needed only the city’s “agreement or consent” to allow the placement of water meters on city lake lots that are leased to individuals.
Connor told aldermen, “There’s not much you can do to stop that from occurring, even if you wanted to … and I’m not sure why you would want to.”
Gottman asked whether any aldermen had an objection to the placement of the water meters, and none responded that they did.
Alderman Andy Lester did ask Myers why Fayette Water did not learn earlier that it did not need permission from the city to extend their water lines to lake area residents.
Myers said that Fayette Water is required to get easements early in the process, and at that time, “I personally did not know that Sharon Township maintained those roads.”
Lester said, “The lack of that brought a lot of hubbub to a lot of people’s lives.”
As the discussion on the issue came to a close, Alderman Dorothy Crawford said, “Nothing we have ever done has stopped Fayette Water from running water to those people.”
Later, before adjournment of the meeting, Alderman Jerry Swarm told the lake area residents present for the meeting that “denial of the easements started with me” as chairman of the council’s water and sewer committee, and he apologized “for causing all of the heartache,” saying that the action should not have been taken “without looking into it further.”
Swarm also responded to remarks from the lake area residents that they have no representation with the city.
“You might not have a voice per se, I would hope that (if) they have any issues come up that they could contact one of us council members.
“Even though you don’t have a voice, you do have a voice,” he said.
Also during Monday’s meeting, Gottman addressed another issue that come up during last week’s council meeting – the Thrill Hill Road bridge.
In their letter to city officials, Dave and Jane Bell said that lake area residents didn’t have much optimism about city action on the water lines because of its handling of the bridge issue.
Displaying a book full of binders, Gottman said that it is just one of three boxes of documents related to the replacement of that bridge.
He explained that the Illinois Department of Transportation is involved in all bridge projects, regardless of where they are located, and that the process involved with any bridge project is very complicated.
“If it was up to us and Howell Asphalt, we would have put one in a long time ago,” Gottman said, noting that Howell has a plant between the bridge and Zent Drive.
He said that the city has had to work with just about every state agency except Historic Preservation, and that it takes a lot of time to get through the process.
Also, Gottman said, after IDOT deemed the bridge unsafe in the spring of 2014, the city didn’t have the funds available at that time to address the issue.
He noted that the city has included funding for the bridge project in the current fiscal year budget. But, he said, the city has to bid the project out through IDOT’s bidding system, and that the next IDOT bid letting isn’t until next March.
While saying that the bridge is on a city road and that the city will do needed work on those roads, “We can’t be foolish with money if we don’t have it. We will not spend money we don’t have.”

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