By Bob Uphues
Riverside's village president sent two letters to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in late September indicating that the village is wary of the Corps' plans to increase the height of the Groveland levee, raise Park Place and build a floodwall behind properties on West Avenue.
In early September, the Army Corps unveiled its latest Upper Des Plaines River watershed report, which recommended a variety of flood-control projects along the river from Racine, Wis., to Riverside.
The recommendations followed in the wake of record high water in Riverside after storms in April, which flooded West Avenue along with portions of Groveland, Lincoln and Forest avenues. It was the second such major flood in the village since 2008.
While attention to flooding in Riverside is welcome, said Village President Ben Sells, certain aspects of the plan, particularly with respect to the Groveland levee and Park Place, appear questionable.
In a letter to the Army Corps dated Sept. 30, Sells referred to a paper authored in 2012 by Southern Illinois University Professor Nicholas Pinter. After examining river gauges where there was at least 50 years of data, Pinter concluded that levees increased flood levels above stream of those locations.
Pinter also stated that the models used by the Army Corps as its basis for determining flood levels underestimated flood levels upstream of levees.
Sells also pointed to public statements made by an Army Corps official in 2010 at a public hearing about the removal of the Hofmann Dam that appeared to contradict the Corps' new study.
Jeff Zuercher stated at that time, according to the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark, that extending the Groveland levee "creates more problems than it solves."
At that time, the Army Corps suggested that a better solution would be to realign the piers of the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad bridge, which are presently aligned diagonally to the river and slow its flow, almost like a dam.
Realigning the railroad bridge piers would lower flood levels by nearly one foot, the Army Corps concluded in its 2009 Groveland Avenue levee study.
However, in its latest study, the Army Corps dismissed that solution, in part because the railroad had no interest in participating in the project.
"We are confused how a project that was earlier dismissed as too expensive and as having adverse flooding effects upstream is now being recommended," Sells wrote in the Sept. 30 letter. "We look forward to an explanation."
The Landmark last week contacted Zuercher for comment on the apparent contradiction. As of Monday, the Army Corps had no response.
In a phone interview Friday, Sells said he remained unconvinced about the latest plan.
"I think they need a lot more information and justification for this project," said Sells, who also wanted more information on the cost of construction, whether Riverside would be responsible for any portion of it and how long-term maintenance would be handled.
"There are a lot of unanswered questions," he said.
The Army Corps recently held three public meetings in both Illinois and Wisconsin about their latest plans for flood-control projects along the Des Plaines and solicited comments from the public about the plans. The input from the meetings and public comment will become part of the final report, said Zuercher.
Sells said he was not against exploring flood-control options for Riverside. However, he wanted the village to play an important part in the final plan.
"We want to be clear that the village of Riverside must be fully integrated in the planning of this project," Sells wrote to the Corps on Sept. 27. "A few weeks of initial public comment cannot satisfy the level of involvement we expect and require."
This story has been changed to correct information about the alignment of the railroad bridge piers.