Litigation eyed over nonworking new East Chicago filtration plant

2012-09-09T20:30:00Z 2012-09-10T11:54:03Z Litigation eyed over nonworking new East Chicago filtration plantSteve Zabroski Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
September 09, 2012 8:30 pm  • 

EAST CHICAGO | Officials are exploring the possibility that designers of the city's new — and still nonfunctioning — water filtration plant might need a nudge from a judge to get the facility operating.

Water Board members have approved a so-called "executive engagement letter" with Indianapolis legal powerhouse Baker & Daniels for assistance in getting the $30 million waterworks up and running.

The facility was scheduled to begin operations last November, but issues with the high-tech strainers used to purify water pulled from Lake Michigan have so far stymied engineers with Siemens USA, which installed the filtration system.

Siemens had assured the city that a plan would be put in place last month, but "there's been nothing to report or any movements on our situation with Siemens," Water Board attorney Joseph Allegretti said Thursday.

Baker & Daniels will "employ some expertise, another set of eyes on the situation," Allegretti said, though the cost for that assistance has not yet been determined.

Residents continue to get their water from the old 1960s-era lakefront waterworks, which was scheduled to be demolished in January, as contractually specified damages of $2,000 per day against Siemens continue to add up.

Keeping the old plant running is a constant struggle between the search for hard-to-find replacement parts and a daily need for preventative and corrective maintenance, said Tom Uran, electrical maintenance foreman.

Deteriorating conditions at the old waterworks spurred the 2008 decision to build the new facility on seven acres along Block Avenue, as well as a new pumping station, water intake and storage tank for a total of $52 million.

Water Department Director Brian Marciniak said employees power up the new filtration plant for five or six hours at a time several days a week to to keep the mechanisms prepared for eventual service.

The new plant is rated to provide 17 million gallons of clean water a day, but so far, engineers have not been able to keep the system operating beyond just one-third of the facility's official capacity.

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