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Robbins and Chicago leaders split on how to stop water main leaking ‘thousands of gallons an hour’

Thousands of gallons of water have poured out of a main break beneath railroad tracks at 2600 W. 119th St., for a month, but Chicago and Robbins officials are split on who should fix the leak, which is a stones throw from city limits.

Ald. Matthew O’Shea, whose 19th Ward borders the break, said while Chicago is working to fix the problem, it should be handled by Robbins because the burst pipe delivers water for the village.

“It’s leaking thousands of gallons of water an hour and has been doing so for nearly a month,” O’Shea said. “Chicago Department of Water Management has gone above and beyond their responsibility here offering their support to Robbins who, certainly initially, failed to address this.”

The Chicago Department of Water Management reinforced in an email late Wednesday that Robbins is in charge of the long-term fix.

“The water main that is leaking is the property of the Village of Robbins and is their responsibility to repair,” said spokesman Megan Vidis. “The Chicago Department of Water Management is pumping the leaking water to prevent it from ending up in Chicago residents’ basements near the leak.”

Robbins Mayor Darren Bryant argues his town can’t afford to fix the leak and calls on state and Cook County officials to provide more funding for water infrastructure upgrades — something suburban towns have long requested.

“Until the state comes up with an agenda as far as what they are going to allocate to the local level municipalities, until we have an agenda from higher up, I don’t have a deadline,” Bryant said when asked when this main break will be fixed. State legislators “just found, what, $19 million I believe for housing immigrants?”

Bryant said while Robbins has received about $10 million in state grants and $4 million for a water tank and water pump upgrade, the roughly $250,000 it will take to fix this break is not in the budget. Robbins also just finished repairing its 10th main break that occurred this month since the freezing cold temperatures reeked havoc on water infrastructure.

The reason why the repair on West 119th Street is more time consuming and expensive than other breaks is because it occurred under a gravel pile laid beneath CSX’s railroad tracks, forcing workers to coordinate around the train schedule and dig around tracks, Bryant said.

The leak is still gushing and has been since the issue was brought to O’Shea attention Jan. 2. Chicago Water Management provided a short-term solution by running a water pump from underneath the gravel at the source of the break to a maintenance hole on the sidewalk. While this reduces flooding, the main break itself is not fixed and pools of water indicating flooding and wasted fresh water remain.

The pump is also incredibly loud, triggering readings of 110 decibels at the site and readings of 80 decibels at the front door of a nearby home, according to readings from an iPhone.

Bryant said he will continue to ask Springfield for more funding for water main fixes, but said Cook County and city of Chicago have to step in for this break. The line is technically in Blue Island, but Tom Wogan, a Blue Island spokesperson, said the line is for Robbins, and is that village’s property.

Residents in Robbins still have access to running water and are being provided water bottles for drinking by the town.

Cook County officials did not respond to requests for comment.

“When we got an invoice that was a quarter-million dollars, we said ‘Wow, we need some assistance,’” Bryant said, which then triggered Cook County to come in and help. “The process is no longer led by Robbins.

Chicago Tribune’s Gregory Royal Pratt contributed.

hsanders@chicagotribune.com