Water quality concerns City Council

By Eric Chima

The Champaign City Council continued with business as usual Tuesday despite the absence of Mayor Gerald Schweighart, who missed the meeting for what the Council implied were medical reasons.

Schweighart said in a meeting earlier this year that he had spent time in the hospital in late December with an ailment that he said would force him to quit smoking. Council members refused to comment on the mayor’s health, citing his rights as a private citizen.

Deputy Mayor Michael La Due ran the meeting in Schweighart’s place. The only council member to mention the mayor’s absence was councilwoman at-large Kathy Ennen, who urged him not to return to the council until cleared by his doctors.

“I’d like to give my personal best wishes to our mayor for a speedy recovery and return to his duties,” Ennen said in a brief comment at the end of the meeting.

The biggest issue on the council’s agenda Tuesday was a resolution approving an intergovernmental agreement with the University and the cities of Urbana and Pekin to study the feasibility of purchasing the area’s water utility. District four councilwoman Marci Dodds said the level of local water service has gone down since the German RWE Group purchased Illinois American Water in 2002.

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“Since it was sold to (RWE) there have been far more boil orders and generally a poorer quality of service,” Dodds said.

The resolution will put $70,000 toward studying a possible purchase. A similar study by Peoria found that purchasing their water company would cost $220 million, Assistant City Manager Paul Berg said, and Champaign could expect a similar figure.

Barry Suits, network operations manager for Illinois American Water, the local branch of RWE, said that, while the parent company was available for sale, the city would have a hard time acquiring just the local utility.

“What they’ll find is that the company is still not for sale,” Suits said.

Berg said the city could use an eminent domain proceeding to acquire the utility if a purchase falls through.