On February 11, 2023, The Chronicle published an article stating that the City of Sycamore “agree[d] to $6M class action lawsuit settlement” and that the City is “on the hook for $1.2M in annual water infrastructure improvements through 2027.” As explained below, this is not an accurate description of the settlement. The settlement will save Sycamore money, not cost it additional money.
Sycamore is pleased that the lawsuit has been dismissed with prejudice. This means that the lawsuit is over and cannot be re-filed by these Plaintiffs. The core allegation of Plaintiffs’ complaint—that Sycamore’s maintenance of the water system subjected residents to allegedly improper lead levels—was never proved. Before the lawsuit started, Sycamore was in compliance with the lead copper rule for years. The lead action level is 15 mg/liter (“mg/l”) and Sycamore is well below it.
Sycamore stands behind these levels. Nevertheless, to facilitate settlement discussions with Plaintiffs, Sycamore agreed to what Plaintiffs described as an “independent” round of lead and copper collection and testing. The purpose of this independent testing was to show Plaintiffs that Sycamore’s lead concentration levels are accurate and the product of a proper and reliable collection and testing regime.
The independent testing Plaintiffs requested was carried out in August and September 2022. Pace Labs collected from 53 Sycamore homes. The results of the independent collection and testing were precisely the same as years of Sycamore’s reporting to the IEPA—lead concentration levels below the lead action level.
As part of the settlement agreement, this independent testing will continue for a period of three years. While the independent testing will impose some additional costs, those costs pale in comparison to what Sycamore would spend on ongoing litigation with Plaintiffs.
Until January 2023, from Sycamore’s perspective, there were two impediments standing in the way of settlement. The first was Plaintiffs’ demand that Sycamore pay their lawyers more than $1,000,000 in legal fees and costs. This was a non-starter for Sycamore. As part of the settlement agreement, Sycamore is not paying Plaintiffs’ lawyers any legal fees or costs. The second impediment, in Sycamore’s view, was Plaintiffs’ demand to run the Water Department pursuant to the terms of a consent decree. This was also unacceptable for Sycamore because it would have turned control over the Water Department to an outside third party. The settlement agreement contains no consent decree and the Water Department will continue to be managed by Sycamore.
The settlement agreement contains a provision whereby Sycamore will spend, on average, $1,200,000 per year on water infrastructure improvement projects over the five-year period 2023 through 2027. This is not a new expense that was caused by the lawsuit. This expense is consistent with Sycamore’s historical spend on water infrastructure improvement projects. For example, in 2022, Sycamore spent more than $3,500,000 on water infrastructure improvement projects, including lead service line replacement work. The lawsuit and the settlement do not change what has been Sycamore’s strong and ongoing commitment to maintaining the City’s water infrastructure.
The settlement agreement contains a provision whereby Sycamore must pay the two named Plaintiffs each $6,000. Sycamore agreed to pay these amounts in the interest of bringing the lawsuit to a close. Like the independent testing costs, this one-time, $12,000 expense is a fraction of the costs Sycamore would spend in ongoing litigation.
Sycamore has a long history of investing for the future, particularly within our infrastructure. It has been, and will continue to be, our priority to provide safe, clean water to our residents.