Sunday, January 15, 2012

From my 2006 run but still relevant today


It was July 2001 and Liz Chaplin was sitting outside reading a story in the localSun newspaper as her three children played in a wading pool. The story was about underground chemical contaminants from The Lockformer Company that were found spreading east towards her home in Downers Grove. The Chaplin home used a private well for their water. Concerned Liz called the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) in the first of what would be many calls and meetings with the agency over the years. The IEPA told her that her home was not affected – there was no water contamination east of I-355. When she asked if they had tested east of I-355 the IEPA said no – the same answer they gave her when she asked if they would test her well.
Still concerned, Liz called the DuPage County Health Department who told her they did not test private wells for volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), the type of pollution coming from Lockformer. Unwilling to ignore a potential problem, Liz turned to the Yellow Pages and found a private environmental firm that came out to test her water. Within two weeks she received a call. Her family’s water supply had almost three times the legal limit of TCE and PCE. Both the environmental firm and Liz called the IEPA, starting an investigation in her neighborhood. Liz started telling neighbors of the contamination, leading to the development of the Citizens Advisory Group, where she served as president. They held meetings, gathered petition signatures, made phone call after phone call, sent letters to all levels of government and attended local and state level meetings. For two years it was Chaplin’s full time job.
After establishing themselves, it took a little over two years to get Lake Michigan water to the 800 affected homes at terms the residents found acceptable – having all costs covered for their new water connections. While they negotiated an agreement, about 70 of the homes had to pay for their own water hook-ups for health reasons or property sales. Liz continues to try to recover funds for families that paid out of pocket.
What Liz did is simply amazing. With little official encouragement, spurred on by her concern for her community, she ended up helping residents reach a deal and cooperate with the county to provide safe water hook-ups to their homes.
But Liz Chaplin has done more than that. More than helping 800 families get safe water, including helping Downers Grove gain a state grant for $700,000.00 to pay for extending water mains, her local efforts have made things better for residents of Illinois and DuPage County, including:
- Spurring passage of the Illinois Ground Water Protection Act amendment which now requires the Illinois Department of Public Health to notify residents within 60 days of suspected contamination so that private wells can be tested; and
- Recommending that the DuPage County Health Department test private wells for VOCs – which the Department is in the process of doing.
While some people might consider these achievements enough and rest on their laurels, Liz has continued her public service helping to improve DuPage County. In 2002 Liz was appointed to the DuPage Water Commission, where she pushed to get regular communications (currently monthly) from the Commission to all its customers and DuPage County highlighting information from each month’s meetings. She also initiated a Mission Statement for the organization – helping to clarify its purpose. Speaking about her open government philosophy, Liz told me, “I really feel it is important to have open communication form of government and that information be shared.” It is a lesson born from experience.
There are a lot of things voters look for in elected officials – and many times candidates fall short. Liz’s record demonstrates that she takes initiative, works tenaciously building broad consensus to achieve results and believes that open communication is necessary for good government. It’s rare that voters get a chance to elect someone with Liz’s qualifications and qualities. DuPage County Board District 2 voters should take advantage of Liz Chaplin’s candidacy – when you find a good one you don’t let them go.

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