Members of the Cook County Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) held a public meeting on Dec. 8 at the Lyons Village Hall with many suburban officials to discuss the MWRD’s proposed watershed management ordinance, which is designed to prevent the kind of flooding that has hit Riverside and other local communities in recent years.
The proposed ordinance would strictly regulate the treatment of runoff and require retention of storm water on one-acre residential parcels and half-acre non-residential parcels.
Mayors in attendance uniformly expressed concerns that the ordinance was too strict and would raise costs and restrict economic development.
“This comes at the worst possible time for every municipality,” said Dave Heilmann Village President of Oak Lawn. “To do something next year could be catastrophic for many municipalities from a financial viewpoint.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by many other mayors who said that suburban Cook County would be at a competitive disadvantage if the proposed ordinance was adopted as it is currently written.
“A good portion of the ordinance comes as a mandate on local government,” said Jerry Bennett, the Mayor of Palos Hills and the president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors. “It puts an undue burden, possibly a punitive burden, on suburban Cook County.”
But Riverside Village Trustee Lonnie Sacchi, who also attended the meeting, was not impressed with the complaints of the mayors.
“All these mayors want to just gut this thing, because they’re afraid that it’s going to impact their development capabilities or usurp their authority,” Sacchi said.
“But this is an issue that transcends all these little villages, and you need a jurisdiction with the authority to be able to, not usurp their authority, but to coalesce everybody’s concern into something that’s going to mitigate the flooding.
Sacchi said the ordinance is needed to control flooding.
“You can’t have development at the expense of flooding people out of their homes,” Sacchi said. “That’s the bottom line to me. And that’s got to be the overriding concern … giving relief to some of these people that have their homes flood every year. It’s got to stop.”
Riverside Village President Michael Gorman, who was not at the meeting, said he didn’t have all the details of the proposed ordinance, but said he’d be in favor of a law that would protect local residents from the kind of flooding they experienced last year.
“Whatever gets my residents relief that’s what I would be in favor of,” said Gorman in a phone interview on Monday. “I support the direction the MWRD’s going.”
Riverside Lawn resident Allen Koessel, whose home has been flooded more than once, including in the wake of major storms August 2007 and September 2008, spoke up at the meeting in favor of the ordinance.
“I’m just a guy whose house floods,” Koessel said. “I think anything would help, because it’s basically been unchecked. They need to do a bunch of different stuff. They need to build some levies. They need to do all that stuff. The retention thing is good, anything, because it’s just out of hand.”
Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin called upon the MWRD to commission an economic impact study of the proposed ordinance. Mayors said that they wanted to meet personally with MWRD commissioners to rework the ordinance.
MWRD President Terrence O’Brien assured the mayors that the proposed ordinance is not final and vowed to work with the mayors to come up with mutually agreeable solution to the problem of flooding.
“I just want you to know that this still is a work in progress,” O’Brien said. “I want this dialogue to continue. I’ll be more than happy to talk to the board and the staff about doing this economic impact study.”