The City has begun investigating water pipes in the area surrounding James Park on Evanston’s southwest side as it proceeds with a lawsuit against Nicor and ComEd demanding that the utility giants provide an accounting for gas lines in the park they inherited from a corporate predecessor.

Madison, Wis.-based SCS Engineers is undertaking the investigation on the City’s behalf. According to a March 2017 memo provided by SCS, the goal of the investigation is to determine pressures and gas constituents – if any – remaining inside previously unaccounted-for pipes along Dodge Avenue and Oakton Street. The pipes are abandoned and closed off, and the City has no records as to why.

Work began May 4 and is expected to last 12 weeks.

“The objective of this investigation is to obtain this information and to evaluate past releases from these pipelines and the effect of any releases from these infrastructure elements on the soils, bedrock, groundwater, and existing Evanston water and sewer facilities in the area,” said the memo.

Black crust was found on the Dodge Avenue pipe in question in a previous excavation; that crust matches coal tar found at the Skokie Manufactured Gas Plant site located at Oakton Street and McCormick Boulevard. Trace elements of chemicals indicative of coal tar, a dark viscous substance, were also found – albeit in benign amounts – during several rounds of water testing carried out in the neighborhood. The City has said the amounts found were so minute that the water in the area is safe to drink.

The City filed its lawsuit in May 2016 to compel Nicor and ComEd, who now own the Skokie Gas Plant site’s assets, to give an accounting for the pipes in the area. The utilities have steadfastly resisted doing so. City officials maintained that the lawsuit is necessary to get a determination as to the origin and extent of the contamination in the park. Earlier attempts to litigate the matter failed; even before the May 2016 suit, the City had spent about $500,000 on the matter.

Information on the excavation and the lawsuit is at cityofevanston.org/government/departments/parks-recreation-community-services/parks/environmental-lawsuit.