The Riverside village board remains wary of a U.S Army Corps of Engineers’ plan to construct a floodwall south of Forest Avenue to the railroad bridge, raise the Groveland Avenue levee, and make Park Place a de facto levee.
On Nov. 7, trustees and Village President Ben Sells were unanimous in their opposition to signing a letter of intent to support the Army Corps’ plans unless the agency can provide Riverside with more detailed information on proposed flood-control measures and an estimated cost for those improvements.
“I can’t imagine anyone signing this thing,” said Sells.
On Oct. 23, Riverside received a draft letter of intent from the Army Corps, asking for the village to sign off on it by Oct. 28. Because the Riverside village board was not scheduled to meet until Nov. 7, the village was unable to meet that deadline. But last week’s discussion of the letter showed it didn’t matter anyway; no one on the village board was prepared to sign off on it.
The letter asked for support to pursue the “Groveland Avenue Levee” and “Non-structural Floodproofing and Buyouts” without any explanation of what those terms meant.
“I don’t even know what that means,” said Sells.
Sells responded to the Army Corps’ Oct. 23 letter a day later, saying the village needed more information, not only on the projects themselves but also the cost.
“We cannot, however, support anything without considerable [sic] more information concerning the nature and extent of the proposed projects as well as viable alternatives,” Sells wrote.
In September, the Army Corps released a flood-prevention plan for the entire Upper Des Plaines River Watershed, from southern Wisconsin to Riverside. The plan called out a number of flood-control proposals for Riverside, including raising the Groveland Avenue levee by 2 feet, creating a levee by raising the level at Park Place, building a concrete floodwall south of the Forest Avenue bridge that would extend to the railroad bridge and installing a floodgate at Forest Avenue.
Nothing in the September plan approached “non-structural floodproofing” and buyouts were rejected as a solution.
“I think what’s going on is that the Army Corps of Engineers is trying to sell this program to Congress,” said Sells. “If they can get up-front buy-in from all of these local municipalities, they can leverage that to get support from Congress.”
On Nov. 1 Army Corps Project Manager Jeff Zuercher responded in an email to Sells, stating that the Corps could provide the village with cost estimates as long as those costs were not released to the public. In addition, Zuercher attached to his email a copy of the Army Corps’ 2009 Groveland Avenue Limited Strategic Study, which Zuercher stated would be “helpful in giving some of the details” of the proposed flood-control measures.
But the 2009 plan is very different from the one released by the Army Corps in September. It refers to a levee, not a floodwall, along West Avenue and includes modifications to the railroad bridge that the September report rejected.
In the wake of the 2009 report, Zuercher said at a public meeting in 2010 that extending the levee south of Forest Avenue “creates more problems than it solves.”
Asked by Sells to explain the change in attitude on that point, Zuercher wrote on Oct. 23 that “past modeling had indicated there could possibly be impacts, but as the modeling was refined and project designs given more detail, we were able to find a solution that provided the needed protection without impacts that had been previously thought possible.”
That explanation wasn’t enough to convince Riverside officials to sign a letter of support for the Army Corps’ plan.
“It’s frustrating because everybody wants to do something,” said Sells. “But they have to give us something concrete.”