Emanuel says filtration plant got good marks in security check

Written By Fran Spielman Posted: 08/07/2014, 01:01am

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday that a “national organization” has just completed an 18-month review of security at Chicago’s Jardine and other water filtration plants and that the city came out of it with “good marks.”

Emanuel said it was a “fair question” to ask why the main gate at Jardine was allowed to continue malfunctioning for months before being repaired at a contractor’s expense.

But it was one the mayor could not answer and referred to his Department of Water Management, which hasn’t answered the question either.

“They just finished an 18 month reiew and got good marks. But just getting good marks is not good enough when it comes to safety and security,” the mayor said of the plants where Chicago’s drinking water is purified.

“They have to make sure they’re doing everything that the report recommended and they all use this moment as a learning experience of what more do we have to do to provide and make sure that Jardine and other water treatment facilities have the security apparatus around them to ensure that nothing will happen.”

Citing security concerns, the mayor’s office refused to identify its security consultant, nor would City Hall make the report public or describe its recommendations.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported earlier this week that the front gate of the Jardine water filtration plant — one of Chicago’s main potential terrorism targets — was malfunctioning for months this year, raising security concerns among some law enforcement officials.

The newspaper also discovered a disturbing example of an unauthorized civilian who managed to get past the main vehicle checkpoint for the city’s filtration plant near Navy Pier.

On June 13, security officers at Jardine stopped an Evanston man with a history of trespassing, police said. The man admitted he sneaked onto the restricted property in his car. He tailed an authorized truck through the checkpoint, parked and walked up to a building where he was detained, police said.

The 45-year-old man wasn’t arrested. The security gate apparently was working at the time, police said. That’s the incident that Emanuel was apparently referring to when he talked about a “learning experience.”

One law enforcement source said he’s heard of multiple examples of unauthorized civilians entering the Jardine facility this year.

Sources said the malfunctioning gate and the June trespassing incident are both alarming. That’s because the facility is a potential target for terrorists who might want to contaminate the region’s drinking water. Also, lethal chemicals stored at the facility could create a deadly hazard if released into the atmosphere.

But Gary Litherland, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Water Management, insisted “the security of Jardine has not been compromised in any way at any time.” 

“As anyone can see by walking or driving near the entrance of the plant, the gate is not the only security measure in place at that location. Security guards are also stationed at the entrance around the clock. Beyond that we will not discuss the details of our security plan,” Litherland said.

Asked how long the gate wasn’t working, Litherland responded: “The issues with the gate have been intermittent for the last few months.”

The gate, installed in 2003, was suffering from “normal wear and tear,” he said, adding that the vendor paid for the repairs.

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