Northern Illinois Gas Company and Commonwealth Edison Company (the Utilities) filed their response to the City of Evanston’s motion for preliminary injunction in the James Park environmental contamination case on Nov. 16. The federal court in Chicago held evidentiary hearings on the City of Evanston’s motion for preliminary injunction on eight days, starting in August and concluding on Sept. 7. On Oct. 12, the City of Evanston filed a brief in support of its motion. The RoundTable has previously summarized the City’s position.

The Utilities’ 40 page response disputes the City’s position that the “black crust” on the City’s water mains in the James Park area came from a manufactured-gas plant (MGP) formerly located on the west side of the Northshore Channel in Skokie. The response says that a forensic chemical analysis “conclusively establishes that the materials detected on and in the water main and at bedrock could not have come from the Skokie MGP.”  They also presented testimony that the black crust on the cast iron water mains contained polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons because during the fabrication of the iron pipes in 1925 they were “dipped in coal tar coating to inhibit corrosion, precisely as required by technical specifications of the time.” The Utilities say, “That coating disbanded over time and mixed into the pipe’s normal corrosion and tuberculation.”  Further, the Utilities argue the City’s theory that MGP byproducts could migrate from the MGP pipelines to the City’s water mains is “implausible.”

The Utilities also argue the methane beneath James Park is not due to tar that sank, but is naturally occurring, and further that “the methane deep beneath James Park does not present a danger, much less an imminent and substantial endangerment under RCRA.” They also argue, “The City’s claims of irreparable injury to drinking water are not credible when the City has repeatedly assured the public that its water is safe and has not taken any of the steps it now says are needed.”

The City’s motion for preliminary injunction is set for oral argument on Jan. 23.

To date, the City has incurred just under $6.5 million in attorneys’ fees and expenses in connection with the James Park litigation. In this year alone, it has incurred attorneys’ fees and expenses in the amount of almost $3.7 million.

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...