Joliet folks pull together for new water tower

By 
Jaci Webb
of the Laurel Outlook staff
Thursday, October 21, 2021
Joliet Public Works Director Charlie Buechler has been working for the city of Joliet since the 1970s, taking over as director when his dad Roy Buechler retired. A bench outside City Hall honors Charlie’s parents, Agnes and Roy Buechler.

Joliet Public Works Director Charlie Buechler has been working for the city of Joliet since the 1970s, taking over as director when his dad Roy Buechler retired. A bench outside City Hall honors Charlie’s parents, Agnes and Roy Buechler.

Joliet Mayor Dakota Mitchem, Public Works Director Charlie Buechler and City Attorney Juliane Lore stand in front of Joliet City Hall.

Joliet Mayor Dakota Mitchem, Public Works Director Charlie Buechler and City Attorney Juliane Lore stand in front of Joliet City Hall.

Town Attorney Juliane Lore and Public Works Director Charlie Buechler look over the Joliet water tower, which was built in the 1940s, and needs to be replaced.

Town Attorney Juliane Lore and Public Works Director Charlie Buechler look over the Joliet water tower, which was built in the 1940s, and needs to be replaced.

Negotiations could have gone south rather quickly when it was discovered that the Joliet water tower had been squatting since the 1940s.

The partially buried concrete water tower has been serving the Joliet community well for eight decades. Easements were originally put in place to allow the tower to be built on a lodge pole pine-covered hill overlooking Rock Creek. Many refer to it as “J” hill because that’s where the big Joliet “J” is painted.

But something was wrong with those easements—they were written for property just west of where the existing tank was built. Public Works Director Charlie Buechler said it was likely built on higher ground for better water pressure.

The biggest issue with the situation was that the original landowner had passed on and the challenge was to track down the legal heir to the property to get approval so a new easement could be secured. At just under 200,000 gallons, the water tower is no longer large enough to handle the increased population numbers in the Joliet area. The Department of Environmental Quality is requiring a larger tank, according to Mayor Dakota Mitchem. The new one will have a 400,000-gallon capacity. Work will begin in 2022.

The heir to the property, Fran Ward, lives out of state so negotiations were done via phone calls and the mail service. Town attorney Juliane Lore took over the case in 2019 after the passing of long-time attorney Hope Freeman. She was beaming with pleasure showing a visitor the site of the new water tank.

“In a bigger city, we could have paid a small fortune for this land,” Lore said.

Lore said it took a whole crew of Joliet folks to get the easements handled. From the Mayor to the Public Works Director, city council members including Ira Preshinger, and City Clerk Amber Foechterle, everybody pitched in.

“It was very nice,” Mitchem said. “Fran Ward and the attorneys came together with something that would work for the town that is sustainable.”

Even though most easements only last 20 to 40 years, this one will be in effect for perpetuity. A land easement is a legal contract that provides access to private land. Fran Ward, whose father was the original owner of the property, was given two water hookups from the city should she decide to move to Montana and build a summer home. Like other landowners, Ward could have subdivided the land into smaller parcels, making it almost impossible for the land easements, but she opted to keep the land intact. Some grant money has been secured, but there is still a need for additional funding, Mitchem said. The total project will cost $3 million, which includes upgrading some sewer lines.

Lore said this exemplifies the power of small-town people – they are honest and community minded.

“In Joliet, nobody puts on airs. It’s a good place to be,” Lore said.

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