The Army Corps of Engineers has recommended raising the Groveland levee two feet, building a new levee behind West Avenue properties and raising the height of Park Place to serve as a buffer on the north.Illustration by Sky Hatter

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is seeking input from the public regarding its Upper Des Plaines River flood management and ecosystem restoration report, published Sept. 3, which includes flood control projects for Riverside.

Plans call for the Groveland Avenue levee to be raised two feet and extended south of the Forest Avenue bridge to the railroad bridge, a length of 700 feet.

In addition, in order to prevent flood waters from coming around the Groveland Avenue levee from the north, the Army Corps is proposing raising Park Place to the height of the levee and gradually sloping Groveland Avenue and Lincoln Avenue from the top of Park Place toward the south.

Such a plan would alter parking on Park Place and create some potential issues with connecting driveways and alleys to the streets. All of the plans are preliminary at this point, said Jeff Zuercher, project manager with the Army Corps of Engineers.

“We would work with the community when we go through the final design,” Zuercher said.

In order to extend the levee south of the Forest Avenue bridge, the Army Corps of Engineers would need to secure a permanent easement for the structure from property owners on West Avenue. It’s unclear whether such easements would be necessary along Park Place.

“Take whatever you need; that’s where we’re at, at this point,” said Mel Figueroa, who lives with his wife, Theresa Sosa in a West Avenue duplex facing the river.

The couple has endured two major floods since 2008. In April, water filled the crawl space beneath the residence and flooded the main floor as well.

For Figueroa, a levee can’t be built fast enough.

“I know this doesn’t happen overnight,” Figueroa said. “We’re just keeping our fingers crossed till then.”

Tom Erangey, who has owned a home on West Avenue for the past seven years, is situated on higher ground than Figueroa and hasn’t experienced the kind of flood damage seen further north on the street.

Several years ago, Erangey said, he would have opposed a levee. But with major floods coming more frequently, he’s changed his mind.

“To be honest, there were two voices openly opposed, and we were one,” said Erangey. “But after seeing so many friends devastated by flooding and [the impact on] property values, I’m totally open to it.”

The Army Corps has not released preliminary estimates of what it will cost to complete the projects. However, he did say that the Riverside projects were “high-priority projects that would get people out of the flood zone immediately.”

The levee improvements are part of the Army Corps’ Continuing Authorities Program (CAP) and could be funded through that program, in which projects compete for limited dollars on an ongoing basis. The Hofmann Dam removal and its associated projects were funded through CAP.

But the Riverside improvements are also being included in the larger Upper Des Plaines Study, which, after compiling public comment, will send a final plan to the U.S. Congress for authorization.

According to Zuercher the Army Corps is more than a year away from sending the plan to Congress. If everything goes smoothly, Zuercher said, construction on elements of the plan could begin by 2018 or 2019.

“We have the justification for these, and we feel Congress will be interested in seeing these built,” Zuercher said.

The Army Corps decided not to pursue two other flood-mitigation projects related to Riverside. They scrapped a plan to extend the piers of the railroad bridge, which presently serve to slow the flow of the river.

However, the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad, according to the Army Corps, has no interest in participating financially in such a project. In addition, such a change would have likely forced other flood-mitigation efforts downstream.

The Army Corps also took a pass on realigning the Forest Avenue bridge, since realignment of the piers there would not have had much effect on the flow of the river.

The draft study can be found on the Army Corps’ website at Public comment is being accepted until Oct. 2 through the Army Corps’ website, email or the U.S. Postal Service, Zuercher.

Proposed local improvements are just a small part of the wide-ranging plan to build levees, reservoirs and other flood-prevention features from Racine, Wis., to Riverside. The Army Corps states that if the projects are approved by Congress, they will reduce flooding in communities throughout the Des Plaines watershed and will provide about $8.6 million annually in net economic benefits.

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