Tensions remain over floodwall plan in Riverside

Residents remain divided on plan to curb flooding near Des Plaines

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By Bob Uphues

Editor

In July, members of the Riverside Village Board will discuss and likely vote on whether to enter into a partner project agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin designing flood control measures to protect the neighborhood just east of the Des Plaines River from Park Place to the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad bridge.

That action follows on the heels of a two-hour, sometimes heated discussion between Army Corps and village officials and residents, some of whom are still not convinced that the Army Corps' computer modeling is accurate. 

At least one West Avenue resident said she'd personally try to derail the project if it had a negative impact on her property's value.

"If there is not an appraisal built into that process, it's not happening," said Mary Erangey, a longtime resident of West Avenue, whose home is on higher ground on that block and does not experience flooding, though homes nearby do.

"Every one of us has our own interest that we have to protect," Erangey said. "My property is my primary concern. … The impact of value on my property has to be factored into this process or we will not agree to this."

Some longtime neighborhood residents, who had experienced the big floods in 1987, 2008 and 2013 didn't take kindly to Erangey's thoughts.

Mary Pierog, who owns an apartment building on Lincoln Avenue, which flooded on those three occasions, dismissed Erangey's concerns about her river views or access being impeded by a floodwall.

"I really don't give a damn about your view of the river," said Pierog, who has owned the building since the 1970s and has lived there since 1981. "You have to respect other people's homes. 

"I can't go through this much longer. The berm needs to be built; floodwalls need to be."

Others, like Lois Kimmelman, another longtime Groveland Avenue resident who has experienced repeated flooding, remained opposed to the flood-control measures, saying it would contribute to flooding downstream and result in other negative impacts, from the inconvenience of living in a construction zone to the loss of trees and wildlife and the expense of maintaining the floodwalls in the future.

"There are many short- and long-term repercussions," Kimmelman said. 

Village President Ben Sells stated that moving ahead with the partner project agreement did not require the village to implement the plan in the future, but that unless such an agreement was entered into, there could be no further study into what the final plan might look like and how that plan would affect individual properties, like those along West Avenue.

"By federal statute, we are required to have the right as a village to refuse the construction phase, if we have doubts after engineering and design," Sells said. "If we want to walk away from this project, we can."

At one point during the proceedings, an exasperated Sells decried what he called "cynicism" regarding residents questioning officials' motives for exploring the flood-prevention measures and rumors circulating that he had personally already given the go-ahead for the project.

"Why in God's name would we do that?" said Sells. "We are your neighbors. I have nothing but your best interests in my heart. I would never keep anything from you. I would never lie about something like this. I have no authority unilaterally to make any kind of decisions about a project of this magnitude, and if I did, I wouldn't."

Jeff Zuercher, a project engineer from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, provided computer models that correlated closely with the 2013 flood, matching the model information with aerial photos taken after the flood. They closely matched, giving the Army Corps a belief that their models were highly accurate.

Orion Galey, an engineer from Christopher B. Burke Engineering Ltd., the village's municipal engineering firm, reported that his firm agreed the modeling provided by the Army Corps was accurate. Burke Engineering is not involved in the Army Corps' flood-control project.

"[Christopher Burke] has no interest in carrying water for the Army Corps of Engineers," Sells said. "That's why we have them to safeguard this process, and we're going to do that every single step of the way. 

"If we have our doubts, of we think it's not something that's good for this village, it won't happen," he added. "But, please, don't let the cynicism that permeates our culture poison this village."

Information regarding the proposed flood-control project, including flood maps, links to studies and more can be found at www.riverside.il.us/488/Groveland-Berm.

If the village acts to enter into a project partnership agreement in July, the Army Corps of Engineers will undertake project engineering and design, which won't be complete until sometime in late 2018.

A construction contract, if the village agrees to move ahead with the plan, would be awarded probably in late 2019, with construction beginning in 2020 and lasting for about two years.

Contact:
Email: buphues@wjinc.com Twitter: @RBLandmark

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