Dueling White Pines groups differ on Bensenville's plan to replace water mains
Two opposing groups in the White Pines neighborhood near Bensenville are sending DuPage County officials conflicting messages on whether the county should get involved in a plan to replace the subdivision's aging water delivery system.
Bensenville, which provides Lake Michigan water to White Pines, is pursuing an estimated $7.8 million project to replace water mains in the roughly 270-house subdivision. To pay for the work, some property owners can voluntarily be annexed and pay for it through property taxes, while others would have to pay a higher surcharge that would significantly increase their water bill for 20 years.
Last week, Gina Mellenthin, president of the White Pines Civic Association, told DuPage County Board members that subdivision residents shouldn't have to pay for the project. She urged the county to seek state or federal grant money to fund the work.
Now, a second group calling itself the White Pines Community Alliance is asking the county to allow the water main project to "proceed as planned without interference."
"We have thoroughly researched the water system project and clearly understand the financial ramifications and costs of the project," the group wrote in an email to the county board. "Our perspective is that the health and safety benefits of a new system far outweigh any burdens placed upon us."
They were once part of the civic association until they left about two years ago and started their own group.
Alliance member Jim Brill said the group contacted DuPage County officials because it wants them to know the civic association doesn't represent the entire White Pines community. The neighborhood is in an unincorporated area near Bensenville.
"The White Pines Civic Association isn't a homeowners association," Brill said. "They have no legal right to represent anybody."
He said many White Pines residents want a new water system because they believe the existing one, which includes decades-old pipes, is dilapidated and unsafe.
Brill said residents who have old water mains in their backyards are "tired" of frequent breaks and leaks leaving their properties in a state of disarray and mud. "In my backyard alone, we've had six breaks in the last three years," he said.
Mellenthin said Friday she agrees parts of the water system need to be replaced. She said she disagrees with the size and scope of Bensenville's project.
"They're replacing certain pipes that don't need to be replaced," she said, adding residents have paid to fix the system "time and time again."
Mellenthin said she's disappointed a small "splinter group" is trying to hinder efforts to seek grant money.
"Why would they do that?" she said. "That's stopping their neighborhood from getting funding to pay for this project."
Meanwhile, Bensenville officials say they're moving ahead with the project. Construction is expected to begin in spring or summer 2020.
To raise the estimated $7.8 million, Bensenville plans to use roughly $600,000 it collected from a surcharge that White Pines residents have been paying on their water bills. It will borrow the rest.
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.
Brill said he wants work to start as soon as possible.
"The county should stay out of it," he said. "Let Bensenville come in, put in the new lines and be done with it."
But Mellenthin says the county has received a petition signed by more than 260 White Pines residents. She said she hopes DuPage officials find a way to help those people.
"I would hope that they look at the bigger picture," she said.