MWRD hoping for hearty slice of stimulus pie

  • By Jennifer Slosar
  • Environment Reporter
  • February 04, 2009 @ 9:09 AM

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago has compiled a hefty shopping list totaling $380 million for the stimulus package currently being debated in the U.S. Senate.

Officials at the wastewater agency say they’ve identified projects in their $1.6 billion budget that are ready to go and that meet the goals stated for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The Senate is expected to vote later this week on a stimulus bill that is nearing $900 billion.  The House of Representatives passed an $820 billion version of the bill on Jan. 28.

President Barack Obama has said the act is intended to create or save three to four million jobs and rebuild the country’s infrastructure.

“We looked for projects that could commence within 120 days and could create jobs within a market, and this group of projects best fit these requirements,” says MWRD spokeswoman Jill Horist.

The list includes major capital projects the district says are ready to be advertised and awarded on short order.

By far the largest portion of the request -- $317 million -- is for construction work on the Thornton Composite Reservoir.

The reservoir, slotted for completion in 2014, will provide billions of gallons of expanded storage for floodwaters and combined sewer overflow in south Chicago and Cook County.

Another category of project include what district officials are calling “green” or “sustainable” projects, such as installing energy efficient windows at the Northside treatment plant ($280,000), upgrading lighting at the Calumet plant ($200,000) and stabilizing Cook County stream beds to reduce erosion ($1 million).

Other items are simply traditional infrastructure projects that the district says can be completed in a short amount of time.

Among those are $1.3 million in emergency generators for the Kirie treatment plant and $350,000 for the installation of new pipe at the Stickney treatment plant.   

The agency has also allotted $6 million for a “supplemental workforce” to tackle a maintenance backlog resulting from 2008 emergency repair projects.

As it stands, the Senate bill allocates $6 billion for infrastructure for drinking water and clean water, according to a summary of the bill by the Senate Appropriations and Finance Committee.

Much of this federal funding could be funneled through the state Environmental Protection Agency, which would then distribute it to the district as low-interest state revolving loan funds, says Joseph Sobanski, chief engineer at MWRD.

 “Basically, this would amount to $380 million in relief for the taxpayers of Cook County,” says Horist. “That’s always welcome.”

Jennifer Slosar is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She covers environmental issues for the Daily News