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'Pivotal moment' meeting goes on without most Joliet water commissioners

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Blue pipes line the walls of the Joliet Water Treatment Facility on Wednesday, March 22, 2017, Joliet, Ill.[]

Plans for what was described as “a pivotal moment in the city’s history” were presented Wednesday to an Environmental Commission that mostly didn’t show up.

A City Council vote on a $279,000 contract for a consultant’s study to find future sources of water for Joliet has been stalled for nearly a month so it could be presented first to the commission, which had been unable to muster enough members for a meeting.

Three showed up Wednesday, which was not enough for a quorum to vote on a recommendation on the study to be done by a consultant team led by the firm of Crawford, Murphy & Tilly.

Interim Utilities Director Allison Swisher decided to go on with the presentation since the contract is scheduled to be on the City Council agenda for a third time on Tuesday.

“Time is of the essence,” Swisher told the three commissioners at the meeting. “We need to get started so we can meet this timetable.”

Swisher laid out a schedule for monthly meetings for the commission, which is being asked to take a deep look at complex issues and recommend solutions to the City Council by January.

“It’s really important for everyone to be able to attend,” Swisher said.

The job of the consultant team “is to make the complex simple,” Theresa O’Grady, project manager for the team, told the commission members. “We’re excited to be a part of this pivotal moment in the city’s history.”

Whether the commission is up for the job may be one of the topics of the next meeting scheduled for Aug. 8.

Even Chairman Gary Davidson, a Joliet attorney, did not come to the meeting Wednesday.

Maria Rafac said she had tried to encourage fellow commissioners to come to the meeting.

“This is our 12th meeting, and I think we’ve had a quorum four times,” Rafac said. “It’s frustrating.”

Rafac and the other commissioners at the meeting – Mike Bily and Marc Kaufman – appeared to have done their homework and viewed their mission as serious.

“I read your proposal, and I was very impressed with it,” Bily told the consulting team.

Kaufman said it was important to pin down the remaining life of the city wells, noting the dire possibilities if Joliet ran short of water sooner than expected.

“I do see this as a matter of life and death, and nothing to play around with,” he said.

Mayor Bob O’Dekirk appointed the commission in March 2017, saying it was important for the city to begin dealing with the water issue. The commission did not hold its first meeting until October.

Forecasts indicate the aquifer Joliet uses for water could begin running dry in 15 to 20 years.