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State loans city $15 million to replace crumbling pipes

Updated: February 19, 2013 2:01PM



Mayor Rahm Emanuel already has doubled water and sewer rates over four years to replace Chicago’s crumbling water mains — 900 miles of them a century old.

Now, he’ll be able to do that work even faster and more cheaply, thanks to a $15 million, low-interest loan from Gov. Pat Quinn’s $1 billion Clean Water Initiative.

The city has tax-exempt bonding authority, but interest rates on the state loan are 1 percent lower, according to Water Management Commissioner Tom Powers.

“Every million dollars we can put into the system is more mains we can do or more facility work we can do,” Powers said. “There’s also the two plants — the largest conventional water treatment plants in the world. One was put in service in the ’40s. One in the ’60s. They need updating. There’s 12 pumping stations. This allows us to take other money and put it into facilities. Upgrades at the plants. Upgrades at the pumping stations.”

Although $15 million sounds like a trickle, every drop of money helps, Emanuel said.

“While we have done what we were supposed to do on our own, I want to do it faster. I want to do more. . . . And to be honest, it will put more people to work,” he said. “While we did replace 72 miles last year, we still had around 3,800 main breaks. And when those mains break, homes flood. Businesses get closed.”

Quinn is at war with state unions over pension reform, state facility closings, layoffs and promised, but now-rescinded pay raises.

Wednesday’s news conference at Plumbers Hall gave the embattled governor a rare chance to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with union leaders.

“Our guys have suffered over the last few years with high unemployment, and this job will allow a lot of our members to go back to work,” said Larry Swope, executive director of the Illinois Pipe Trades Association.

“Gov. Quinn and I sat down a few years ago and he told me his No. 1 priority . . . was to create jobs,” he said. “We support Gov. Quinn and he supports jobs and we’ll continue to do that.”

A noted history buff, Quinn said some of Chicago’s water mains were installed when Ulysses S. Grant was president.

“Ulysses S. Grant, if he was here today, would say the mayor of Chicago is doing the right thing by investing in water,” Quinn said.

That prompted Emanuel to joke, “I thought Ulysses S. Grant would actually thank us for what we did to Atlanta as well.”



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