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Article updated: 7/10/2013 9:57 AM

Ex-Barrington Hills mayor admits to talking to ComEd about auto auction plan

By Lenore T. Adkins

After spending almost a year in limbo over a property access issue, East Dundee officials are ready to vote on a redevelopment agreement for Insurance Auto Auctions, a business that sells totaled vehicles to the highest bidder.

The proposed business has raised the ire of a neighboring subdivision in Barrington Hills, and its former mayor, Robert Abboud, may have been part of the reason for the delay.

Abboud said Tuesday that while he was still in office, he contacted Ann Pramaggiore, president and CEO of ComEd, and urged her to reject IAA's request to use a ComEd-owned easement to access the property. He said he also reached out to her husband, Michael Harrington, before Harrington was elected to the village board last spring. The couple live in Barrington Hills.

"There's no law against knowing people and having relationships," Abboud said. "Last time I checked, that's still legal in the United States. If you want to accuse me because I happen to know some people that work at ComEd, guilty as charged."

East Dundee's vote is scheduled Monday.

If approved, IAA would operate from a 12,000-square-foot building and 34 acres of outdoor storage north of Route 72 at Commonwealth Drive in a reclaimed gravel pit and access the property via Healy Road. It would hold between 5,000 and 8,000 vehicles at a time, documents show.

Moving IAA's access to Healy Road will cost the company about $650,000 more in construction costs due to work that will need to be done on the street and on nearby Route 72 to accommodate the project, East Dundee Village President Lael Miller said. IAA originally wanted to access the property from ComEd's easement on Commonwealth Drive, but ComEd denied the request 10 months after IAA made the request, pointing to environmental concerns it said it had with the project.

In a letter from ComEd to IAA, the utility stated similar concerns Barrington Hill neighbors have raised -- that leaky fluids from the vehicles could contaminate local groundwater, stormwater and soil.

The letter also took issue with IAA's "unauthorized discharging of stormwater" from its Wheeling site onto property owned by ComEd. ComEd said it sent a letter to IAA seeking information about the discharge in January but that IAA never issued a written response to the inquiry.

IAA has agreed to implement additional improvements to ensure the land and water are not polluted.

"We are working closely with East Dundee officials toward the opening of an IAA facility in the area," IAA spokeswoman Jeanene O'Brien said in a statement. "This remains a priority for us and we look forward to working with the community."

While Wheeling cited IAA for discharging the water onto ComEd's property in January -- which IAA later stopped doing -- the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency found no significant issues on the site.

Wheeling and the IEPA got involved after Abboud sent a complaint with on-site videos and photographs he took of IAA's Wheeling site. He sent the information to Wheeling and the IEPA, claiming an "appalling lack of care for the environment" on the part of IAA.

In a complaint Miller sent to the Illinois Commerce Commission about ComEd's lack of response to IAA and the village over the easement, he said Abboud "used his leverage to slow down or stop the project by having ComEd delay granting the necessary easement access."

"They have absolutely no business getting involved in our governmental affairs," Miller said of ComEd, adding he intends to file a formal complaint with the commission. "I'm going to fight that."

Abboud, who worked for ComEd for 20 years, admitted he forwarded the Wheeling information he collected to Pramaggiore and to Harrington.

But Abboud denied having any influence on ComEd's decision to deny the easement.

"I will take the rap for raising the environmental flag on one of ComEd's neighbors and potential neighbors, but ComEd is an $8 billion company," Abboud said. "I don't think that anything I can do as a Barrington Hills resident is going to change their mind. They're doing that on their own."

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