MORRIS – The city of Morris and a landowner on West Avenue are headed to court over a water and sewer easement.
According to Morris Mayor Richard Kopczick, the West Avenue landowner and the city disagree on how much compensation should be paid for the easement.
After attempted negotiations, the city will likely have to use eminent domain – or condemnation proceedings – to secure the easement.
At Monday’s Morris City Council meeting an ordinance authorizing condemnation proceedings for the easement was approved. The city has not publicized who the private land owner is.
“We’re going to go through condemnation proceedings at the circuit court,” Kopczick said Wednesday. “We will have an appraisal proceeding performed to find the amount we believe the easement is worth.”
The easement is needed so the city can move forward with the second phase in a four-part project aimed at preventing sewage overflows into the Illinois River.
The project was triggered by an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency mandate requiring the city to stop the overflows, but it is unfunded by the state, meaning the city is solely responsible funding the roughly $5.8 million project.
The project involves replacing several miles of sewer lines, many of which will cut through private properties, including the West Avenue property being negotiated.
The city already has secured more than 10 voluntary property easements, which give public works crews access to install and maintain the lines. Until now, the city has not needed to bring their negotiations to court, Kopczick said.
“Sadly, this is our first one. All of the other properties have voluntary given us easements to come through and put in this benefit for the entire city,” Kopczick said Wednesday.
The council approved going through condemnation proceedings in a 7 to 0 vote Monday with Alderman Bill Martin absent.
“This is one remaining easement where a financial demand was placed upon the city,” City Attorney Scott Belt said during Monday’s meeting. “The [water and sewer] committee considered it and determined that pursing the acquisition of the easement through condemnation proceedings would be the most prudent.”
Also approved at council Monday, was an ordinance allowing the city access to repair city-owned water meters.
If residents do not comply with ordinance requiring them to schedule meter repairs, their water could be shut off until they make the necessary arrangements.
“We’ve tried to make arrangements with the homeowners to try and get it and change out the meter, at no cost to them,” Kopczick said Monday.
Despite the city’s efforts to contact the owners, some won’t set up their repairs, which leads to faulty meter readings and inaccurate billings. In some instances, residents are going years without repairing their meters.
Until now, the city has had no recourse.
The ordinance approved Monday stipulates the city must make several attempts to contact homeowners. If they receive no response, the water to the residence will be shut off.