ROCK FALLS – Mayor Bill Wescott was the guest for a discussion session with citizens sponsored by the Rock River Open Forum on Thursday night at Rock Falls Public Library.
The mayor wasn’t surprised that the first topic on the table was the Feb. 13 water outage experienced by the city. He recounted the sequence of events, from the power outage at noon to the 2:35 p.m. notification that there was no flow at the lift station. It was a situation that called for some quick decisions.
“I had 15 minutes to decide to shut off the water or not,” Wescott said.
“But it was the right decision, because if we hadn’t, it would have backed up into homes and come out of the lift station door.”
In accordance with emergency disaster protocol, plans were made to set up four water distribution centers, round up portable toilets, and get generators to light the distribution stations.
Some of the 21 people in attendance wondered how much the infrastructure breakdown would cost and who was footing the bill.
Insurance claims have been filed, and if any liability turns up during the investigation process, that would be pursued, Wescott said. The magnitude of the problem, however, dictates that everything be fixed as soon as possible.
“The city is taking care of the costs to get things done quickly,” Wescott said. “There are no invoices in yet on the costs, and we still don’t know exactly how this happened.”
As bad as the situation was, city officials initially thought it was going to be much worse, the mayor said.
“During the first 12 hours of this situation, we thought it would be 4 or 5 days minimum before we got it fixed,” Wescott said.
While on the subject of water, Ed Kobbeman of Rock Falls segued into the city’s action to bring 248 well water users onto the city’s water supply.
“How could [former] Mayor [David] Blanton condemn the wells with the stroke of a pen?” Kobbeman, one of the well owners, asked. “Everyone’s water tested fine; this was about generating revenue.”
Wescott said the issue dates back to a 1970s state statute that said people within 200 feet of city lines should hook up.
“Due diligence wasn’t done to enforce the statute, and the ordinance was drawn up to enforce it,” he said.
The ordinance, which passed 8-0, eventually set the distance at 1,500 feet from outside the Reliant site perimeter.
Wescott admitted that he didn’t like the fact that the public received much of the information after the fact.
That situation is a good example of why citizens must get involved in the civic process, Wescott said.
“When you have questions, ask,” he said. “Look at committee agendas and minutes online. If you don’t have a citizenry that challenges, officials may think that no one cares.”
Fred Turk of Rock Falls asked the mayor what citizens could do to help him.
“Seek out people in your wards to replace the people you aren’t happy with,” Wescott said. “Don’t allow people to have eight terms with no one else on the ballot.”