Chicago Heights, Hammond to meet in federal court Monday on water rates

2012-11-03T18:15:00Z 2012-11-03T23:29:27Z Chicago Heights, Hammond to meet in federal court Monday on water ratesChelsea Schneider Kirk, (219) 933-3241

HAMMOND | Hammond and Chicago Heights will meet in federal court Monday on the Illinois community's petition for a preliminary injunction to bar the shutoff of its water.

The two cities have been unable to agree on a new rate Chicago Heights will pay to buy its water from Hammond.

Chicago Heights is requesting the court grant the injunction to require Hammond to continue providing water under current contract terms pending action by state regulators.

Separately, Chicago Heights has petitioned the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to establish a new rate and issue an emergency order requiring Hammond to continue water service. Hammond has asked the IURC to dismiss the petition. The IURC has scheduled a hearing on the matter Friday in Indianapolis.

Hammond contends Chicago Heights is asking the court to solve “multiple problems of its own making” and that there's “no imminent threat to public health or welfare related to the supply of water that requires urgent action,” according to court records.

Hammond wants the Illinois community to pay an increased rate of $2.20 per 1,000 gallons for water, up from the 57.5 cents per 1,000 gallons Chicago Heights has paid for the past 30 years. Chicago Heights, in turn, also provides some of the water it gets from Hammond to other Illinois communities.

Chicago Heights' water contract with Hammond expires Nov. 12, but in a termination letter, Hammond gives its Illinois customer until March to find a new provider before ending service.

Chicago Heights argues that thousands of Illinois residents may lose their drinking water if the injunction is denied.

“Chicago Heights has no readily available alternative source of potable water, and the refusal of Hammond and Waterworks to negotiate a just and reasonable water rate has jeopardized the source of essential water for thousands of customers. If this water supply were to be discontinued, the public health effects could be catastrophic,” says the filing by Chicago Heights in federal court.

However, Hammond contends the most immediate impact to Chicago Heights is the possibility of higher water bills for its residents, according to court records. Hammond goes on to argue that neighboring communities have raised rates as the city of Chicago has increased the rate it charges to water users.

For 2013, the Chicago rate is set at $2.89 per 1,000 gallons.

"And even though Chicago Heights has filed litigation in two separate forums and put Hammond to significant expense related to these proceedings, Hammond continues to offer Chicago Heights a bargain on the price of water compared to what Chicago Heights would have to pay Chicago, the other major supplier in the area," according to a filing by Hammond in federal court.

In requesting the injunction, Chicago Heights contends the cost for Hammond to provide water to the community has no relationship to what Chicago charges for water.

"Chicago Heights has one source of potable water for its residents and businesses and those of surrounding communities," according to court records. "That source is being threatened."

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