Wayne's Words: Turning challenges into positives

Wayne Horne | 7/12/2018, 6 a.m.
The City of Joliet faces some major challenges over the next few years. For instance, needed infrastructure improvements to accommodate ...

The City of Joliet faces some major challenges over the next few years. For instance, needed infrastructure improvements to accommodate the increased truck traffic from the largest inland port in the country, re-inventing downtown Joliet, developing the old Collins street prison into an entertainment venue, and finding additional uses for the baseball stadium.

These are but a few of the challenges that will occupy our attention for a few years, maybe longer. Some challenges take much longer. The city took decades to face the mandated combined sewer separation project. When the project was originally mandated the city council at the time used the now well-worn “kick-the-can down the road” option to let future councils deal with it. When the current council committed to the project last year the cost had more than doubled and the city had to borrow money for the project. The City faces other, more daunting undertakings.

One of the most important challenges facing the city, and surrounding communities as well, is where will we get our water supply for the future? Joliet Councils have been debating this issue longer than any issues mentioned above. When Walt Kelly of the Illinois Water Survey made a presentation to the Will County Board 18 months ago, Joliet decided it was time to get serious. Kelly said the well may run dry in as little as 15 years from now.

Less than a month later Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk appointed a commission to study the options. City staff weighed in with alternative options for a sustainable long-term solution. Should the city opt for deeper wells, draw from the Kankakee River, or go for the big one — a Lake Michigan water pipeline? In spite of the years and years of studies and discussions on the issue, city staff faltered on the one-yard line when it came to a recommendation of a consulting firm to conduct the study on what the best and most cost- effective solution should be. Really?

Just a hint from a citizen observer. Wells go dry, rivers change course and are easily polluted. Lake Michigan is the second largest lake in the United States by volume and the third largest by area. If we lose Lake Michigan to a drought or other disaster, we all may be doomed. The point is, the best solution is how to make it work and pay for it. This is the number one priority for the City of Joliet and the surrounding communities. If we can’t work this out, the other challenges won’t make much difference in the future.

Which brings us to another big challenge facing Joliet. How do we resolve the challenge of Riverwalk Homes, formerly Evergreen Terrace? One of four public meetings scheduled to present redevelopment options was held this week. Some at the meeting expressed the opinion that the city should not be concerned whether the city recover the cost of acquisition of the property. We should put that one to a vote. Others believed the property should be completely redeveloped to include stores.