New E.C. water filtration plant still not functioning

2012-08-18T20:45:00Z 2012-08-18T21:31:18Z New E.C. water filtration plant still not functioningSteve Zabroski Times Correspondent
August 18, 2012 8:45 pm  • 

EAST CHICAGO | The city's new state-of-the-art water filtration plant still doesn't work, though designers of the system have assured officials that a plan to fix the problem is imminent.

The $30 million facility was scheduled to begin operations in November, but issues with the high-tech strainers used to purify Lake Michigan water have so far stymied engineers with Siemens USA, which installed the filtration system.

Siemens has promised to come up with a plan by Tuesday to bring the plant online, said Chris Murphy, vice president with American Structurepoint, engineering consultant for the project.

Monetary damages of $2,000 per day against Siemens keep adding up as the city is forced to continue using its old 1960s-era lakefront waterworks, which was scheduled to be torn down in January.

Operations there are increasingly difficult, said Tom Uran, electrical maintenance foreman, as his crew must deal on a daily basis with failures of superannuated switches, valves and pumps.

"These are really, really old," Uran told the Water Board while talking about his struggles to find replacement parts for the aging electrical and mechanical systems. "A lot of this stuff is obsolete."

Conditions at the old plant spurred the 2008 decision to build the new facility on 7 acres along Block Avenue and a new pumping station, water intake and storage tank for a total cost of $52 million.

Demolition of the old plant was expected to open up 10 acres of Lake Michigan shoreline for public access in keeping with the Marquette Plan to reclaim previously industrial lakefront land.

"We expressed the urgency (to Siemens) due to conditions at the old plant, so we can move forward with a solution to the straining problem," Murphy said.

When functioning, the new plant is rated to provide 17 million gallons of clean water a day. So far not a single drop has entered the city's distribution system.

"(Siemens) said two weeks ago that they would definitely have a plan, and we never heard from them," said Water Board President John Bakota. "The old plant is so fragile, hopefully nothing happens over there."

The city borrowed $14 million in 2009 to get the project started, supplemented with $6 million in tax increment financing funds, $5 million in federal grants, and a City Council pledge of $3 million per year in casino revenue.

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