Local fire departments secure support for water rescues in wake of Coast Guard station downgrade
Winnetka, Wilmette and Evanston to share used water-rescue boat
A boat that will be used in the event of water rescues and emergencies on Lake Michigan will soon be shared between three North Shore fire departments following the approval of an intergovernmental agreement.
The Winnetka Village Council, along with Village President Chris Rintz, voted 4-0 (with trustees Tina Dalman, Rob Apatoff and Bob Dearborn absent) to enter into the agreement with Wilmette and Evanston to share a rescue boat currently owned by the Willow Springs Fire Department.
On May 10, the Village of Wilmette approved the intergovernmental agreement, which lasts for one year.
Winnetka Fire Chief John Ripka said the reason the agreement was pursued was the U.S Coast Guard’s 2021 announcement that it downgrade Station Wilmette Harbor to a seasonal operation.
Ripka explained that, in the past, the Coast Guard would provide a boat, as well as mutual aid, for emergencies that happened on Lake Michigan, which include water rescues and fires.
Searching for a year-round solution to water rescues, Ripka said he teamed up with fire chiefs in Wilmette and Evanston to see what options were viable. That led them to Willow Springs, a west-suburban fire department that had an unused rescue boat that it was willing to let the three North Shore communities use.
“It fits what we would need for our response,” Ripka said. “It’s a 26-foot fire boat and it has a fire pump on it. The sides fold flat to the water, so it’s ideal for water, dive responses.”
He added that the villages have reached an agreement with the Coast Guard to keep the boat in Wilmette Harbor
Ripka explained how the boat would impact response times. If there were a lake incident in Winnetka, his department would be dispatched, along with Wilmette and Evanston. Whoever got to the boat first would load it onto their emergency vehicles, where it would then be taken to Winnetka. It would work the same with incidents in either Wilmette or Evanston.
“We think it’s going to increase our response,” he said, adding that he believes this agreement will be beneficial to all three North Shore communities.
After the one-year period, the communities have the option to purchase the boat for its appraised value of $100,000, the cost of which would be split between Winnetka, Wilmette and Evanston.
Ripka said the three communities thought the yearlong trial period was the right way to go.
“If it works, I’ll probably be back here in a year talking about different options then,” he said.
While all present trustees supported the agreement, Trustee John Swierk questioned what would happen if a major emergency happened with the boat itself.
“If you find out the whole engine blows up during this whole one-year period, are you required to fix it?” he asked Ripka, calling it the “worst, worst case” scenario.
“That would be my biggest concern,” Swierk said.
Ripka said the boat will undergo a “very thorough dry inspection” to make sure everything is in working order. Additionally, the fire departments are intending to insure the boat in case something does happen to it.
Winnetka’s summer street projects are approved
In other action, the Winnetka Village Council approved a $2 million contract with A Lamp Concrete Contractors, of Schaumberg, for the village’s 2022 summer street projects.
The streets the village plans on working on this summer are:
• Merrill Street from Gordon Terrace to Green Bay Road,
• Gage Street from Gordon Terrace to Green Bay Road,
• Sunview Lane from Hibbard Road to West End, and
• Locust Road from Sunset Road to Mt. Pleasant Road.
In a memo in the board packet, Winnetka’s Director of Engineering Jim Bernahl said the project was downsized due in part to a new Illinois law that requires the removal and replacement of all lead service lines by 2067.
“This also means, as of January 1, 2022, when doing water main construction, the Village cannot reconnect existing lead service lines to the system,” Bernahl wrote. “Partial replacements are no longer permitted except under certain emergency situations. Any lead service that is uncovered when installing new water main and reconnecting building services must be replaced in full, all the way to the foundation of the home.”
This new law will impact three homes in the construction are with lead service lines that lead from their homes to the street, Bernahl told the board, adding that a decision will have to be made with how to handle those lead lines.
Considerable board discussion followed, with the board ultimately directing Bernahl and his staff to speak with the three homeowners that are impacted by the lead pipes and sharing with them three options: 1.) The property owner could use the contractor’s plumber and the village would pay for 50 percent of the pipe replacement costs; 2.) the property owner would retain their own plumber to replace the pipe and would have 30 days to complete the work; or 3.) the property owner would have to sign a waiver to the Illinois Department of Public Health opting out of the service upgrade, which would mean the property owner would pay for replacement at a later date.
The trustees indicated that they would take up this matter again at a future study session in an effort to find a more permanent solution to replacing the lead service lines on other properties that would not have a significant financial burden on the homeowners.
“I think we have to make this as palatable as we can,” Rintz said.
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Peter Kaspari is a blogger and a freelance reporter. A 10-year veteran of journalism, he has written for newspapers in both Iowa and Illinois, including spending multiple years covering crime and courts. Most recently, he served as the editor for The Lake Forest Leader. Peter is also a longtime resident of Wilmette and New Trier High School alumnus.