City Council meetings continue to verge on accomplishing things, then back away as matters of consequence are held or continued to future meetings. The pattern continued on Feb. 8, as the two most controversial items on the agenda, the 831 Emerson project (see adjacent article) and the Advanced Disposal transfer station settlement were pushed to the Feb. 22 meeting.

About 20 residents filed into Council chambers for the Administration and Public Works Committee’s discussion of the waste transfer station proposed settlement. From the outset, Chair Brian Miller, 9th Ward, told the public the three agenda items regarding the transfer station were being held. The items included a lawsuit settlement; a new host agreement between the City and Advanced Disposal, including a 75-cent-per-ton fee; and the repeal of existing ordinances requiring a $2-per-ton tax.

 Despite news of the hold, 10 residents spoke to the issue, all opposed to the settlement. Reasons included the requirement in the host agreement that the fee remain fixed at 75 cents in perpetuity, a lack of transparency in that there was absolutely no community involvement in settlement negotiations, traffic issues, a lack of knowledge as to what material flows through the transfer station, and the environmental justice issues raised by allowing the station to remain in the 5th ward. It was a preview of likely more to come on Feb. 22.

“Thank you very much,” said Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2d ward, at the conclusion of Citizen Comment. “Your voices have been heard tonight. I just wanted to make that clear.”

The remainder of the committee meeting consisted of the usual contracts making up City business, such as fuel purchases, auto parts, Harley-Davidson motorcycle leases, sirens and emergency lights. Nothing stirred discussion or debate until it came time to pay for, of all things, sludge.

When the City pulls in water from Lake Michigan, the water treatment plant must filter out sand and mud. The result is sludge, which is hauled off by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD). The sludge-removal contract is curious because of wide fluctuations in the cost, which is based entirely on the weather.  

The current contract estimated a charge of about $123,000, but just three years ago the charge exceeded $400,000. “In 2013,” said Public Works Director Dave Stonebeck, “the lake was turbid and turned over a lot.” The cause was storms churning the lake and swirling up bottom mud, which then made its way into the City’s water intake pipes. “Over the last two years we’ve had clear water,” he said.

MWRD issues an estimated fee, then reconciles at year-end. Sometimes the City gets a credit for overpaying; other years it gets an updated bill. Storms, it turns out, have all sorts of hidden costs attached to them, and clear weather can result in surprising savings.

The City also renewed its contract with Presence for a mental health hotline at a cost of $73,333.33. “It has been a huge relief to our 911 and other services,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. Under the agreement, Presence provides 24-hour crisis line access, mental health crisis intervention, and community education services. The program began in March 2013, and by all accounts has been positive for the City.

 Council approved a loan from the state Environmental Protection Agency for the construction of the water treatment plant improvements, including a rebuilt water storage tank and clearwells. The City can borrow up to $2.245 million from the state at a low interest rate. It is just part of the total cost, but allows the City to limit the amount of bond borrowing.

 Finally, the City approved the new Northwestern football and baseball scoreboards. Wilmette residents did not speak at the Feb. 8 meeting as they had at the meeting before. Aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, and Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, thanked Northwestern for an improved landscaping plan that roughly doubled the amount of plantings and included some mature, relocated evergreens to provide some immediate screening. Ald. Rainey pointed to similar replantings near the Levy Center as evidence that moving mature trees can work.