White Pines residents ask DuPage to help find money for water project near Bensenville
Some residents in the White Pines neighborhood near Bensenville could lose municipal water service if they resist the village's plan to install a new delivery system.
Now they're asking DuPage County for help.
Bensenville is pursuing an estimated $7.8 million project to replace parts of White Pines' aging water system. To pay for the work, property owners in the roughly 270-home subdivision have two choices: voluntarily be annexed and pay for it through property taxes, or remain separate and pay a higher surcharge that would significantly increase their water bill for 20 years.
Before construction can start next year, the village is trying to secure a roughly $7 million loan from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. As part of the loan process, Bensenville officials say they need temporary construction easements from 155 homeowners. The document allows the village access to properties to relocate service lines.
Last week, the village sent a "final notice" letter to 60 White Pines residents who haven't provided the easement document.
The letter, signed by Public Works Director Joe Caracci, said homeowners who don't grant an easement won't have their service line replacement included in the project. They would need to hire a contractor to relocate their service line within 30 days of a new water main being installed.
"Failure to have your service line relocated within the 30-day time frame will result in your property to be without water," the letter says in bold text.
Gina Mellenthin, president of the White Pines Civic Association, says the tone of the letter is "threatening."
"They're saying if you do not sign these (easements), we're going to shut your water off and throw you out of your homes," said Mellenthin, who spoke to DuPage County Board members during a meeting this week.
Mellenthin said White Pines residents are being rushed into making a decision.
While White Pines has been staunchly independent since its founding in the 1940s, the neighborhood gets Lake Michigan water through Bensenville.
Village officials say the area's water system, which includes decades-old pipes, is functionally obsolete. But a 2014 proposal by the village to replace the system never materialized after resident opposition.
Now Village Manager Evan Summers says Bensenville is moving ahead with the new plan.
"It's necessary," he said. "There is no stopping this project from going forward."
Officials hope to begin construction in spring or summer 2020 and complete it within a year.
To raise the estimated $7.8 million needed for the project, Bensenville plans to use roughly $600,000 it collected from a surcharge that White Pines residents have been paying on their water bills and to borrow the rest from the IEPA.
If residents decide to become Bensenville taxpayers, the property tax dollars they pay to the village would help repay the loan.
Residents who refuse to annex -- or who can't because their properties aren't contiguous with the village -- will have a second option: Bensenville would increase the surcharge for their combined water and sewer bill for 20 years.
But Mellenthin says White Pines residents shouldn't have to pay for the project. She asked the county to help by seeking grant money.
"If we can do something for these people so that the $7 million is not put on the back of 270 homes," Mellenthin told county board members, "I would appreciate it."
County board members didn't respond during the meeting. County Public Works Director Nick Kottmeyer released a written statement on Wednesday.
"This system is entirely owned and operated by the village of Bensenville," Kottmeyer said, "but the county remains willing to assist unincorporated residents and the village to help facilitate the water improvement project."
If the county is able to get state or federal grant money, Summers said, he would "gladly" put it toward the cost of the project.
But he said he's "less than optimistic" that DuPage will receive funding.
"They've been asking the county for grants," Summers said. "These grants haven't materialized."