I-Team Report: The Watering Hole

September 23, 2009 There are 47,000 potential "watering holes" for city contractors because that's how many fire hydrants there are in Chicago.

If contractors want to obtain water from hydrants for their vehicles and equipment, the law requires them to obtain permits and meet other standards.

The I-Team has found that some of the biggest, well-connected contractors ignore the law.

From the jarring of jackhammers to ripped up roadway and miles of traffic jams. Evidence loud and clear that federal stimulus money is flowing into Chicago. But it isn't all that's flowing.

With the construction surge, courtesy of Washington's stimulus, comes a flow of water from hydrants that have been illicitly tapped by private contractor.

"You have to have a permit," said John Swietczak, Chicago Water Department inspector. "When you are talking about the public water supply, you can hurt a lot of people. You can kill people...the potential is there for anything to get siphoned back into the water system. I mean you could have anything, bird feces, and hypodermic needles."

According to city inspectors, permits are supposed to be issued for contractor vehicles that have special backflow connectors to prevent bacteria and debris from seeping into Chicago drinking water.

The I-Team has learned that at least four city contractors have been cited in the past week for obtaining water without permits, thousands and thousands of gallons for their pavement grinding equipment and their street sweepers.

The I-Team took photos of one private contractor's hydrant hook-up were taken just on Wednesday morning at a Milwaukee Avenue jobsite.

The I-Team this week watched another contractor, Bigane Paving, hook up to a hydrant to fill their asphalt grinder.

Goudie: "Can I see the city permit for this?
Pat Harrell, foreman: Sure."

The contractor's on-site foreman handed the I-Team a work order for the removal of asphalt here on Addison St., not a city permit to obtain water from hydrants.

Goudie: "Where is the city permit for the hydrant?
Harrell: We have that at the office."

But at Bigane's office, the company's president said they don't have such a permit, claiming she didn't know they needed one.

Goudie: "You were just cited today for not having a permit weren't you?
Harrell: No. we were just sited for not having the permit out here."

Not true, according to the city inspector who issued Bigane paving the citation.

John Swietczak says Bigane offered a common excuse.

"We don't need a permit, we are working for the city," said Swietczak.

Bigane executives say they expected a permit by late Wednesday.

Last Friday it was a contractor called m-a-t construction that was cited for obtaining hydrant water without a permit and without the required safety equipment to prevent a potentially hazardous backflow to the drinking water supply.

The Bridgeport contractor, MAT is owned by Michael Tadin, a one time friend of Mayor Daley and whose firms was paid millions under the scandalous, and now defunct, hired truck program.

When Swietczak issued the violation, he says the foreman put him on the phone with Tadin's business partner and son, Mike Jr.

"He says he's never bought any permits which I've found astounding and I reported this to the inspector general because I'm afraid of retaliation," said Swietczak.

MAT sent a letter to City Hall, although it was under the fax heading "Marina Cartage" which became synonymous with hired truck in 2005.

Within a few hours, the hydrant permit was issued.

And on Wednesday Tadin Jr. told ABC7 everything has been worked out with the city water department where, coincidentally, his Uncle Thomas works as the top assistant to water commissioner John Spatz.

The I-Team heard from city water department officials on Wednesday night who confirm that citations have been issued to both Bigane and MAT. A spokesman reiterated that permits are required for any private use of a fire hydrant but that they discourage such.

Single hydrant permits are only about $13 a day but according to one Chicago inspector some permits are free depending on a contractor's ability to negotiate or their clout.

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