The Army Corps of Engineers got back to Riverside earlier this month with a response to village officials, who had requested help in repairing the damage done to Swan Pond last winter.
It wasn’t the response Riverside was hoping for.
While the Army Corps did agree to repair an eroded section of the river bank where a drainage pipe from the park extends into the Des Plaines River, that was all the agency was willing to claim responsibility for.
The rest of the damage — including a 10-by-30-yard mat of native plantings that was physically moved from the place it was installed in 2013 during the winter flooding — is up to the village to fix.
“As far as I’m concerned the Army Corps is not standing by their work,” said Village President Ben Sells. “That gives me pause with trusting them in the future.”
The Army Corps waved away any responsibility for the mat of plantings, which had been installed at the base of a culvert to help drain water from the park more quickly after large storm events. During flooding in February, the mat was picked up and moved several feel from its original position.
Despite being in the wrong location, the plants in the mat are growing — proving to the Army Corps that the job had been done correctly.
“Although the wetland planting has moved from the original location, the wetland plants are in good condition and will continue to colonize wet areas, including the original planted area, over the course of the next several growing seasons,” wrote Col. Christopher T. Drew, the Chicago District commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Though it may take longer before the swale achieves its full potential, over time it should perform as designed.”
The movement of the wetland plantings affected the grading of the land near the culvert, lowering the elevation and making it impossible for all of the water to flow out through the culvert to the river.
Large blocks of ice that flowed into Swan Pond Park in January and February also scoured the ground, depositing huge clods of earth in the north portion of the park. The village will be responsible for smoothing out those spots and regrading the area near the culvert to improve the drainage.
As for the wetland plantings, no one is exactly sure what to do with them. The relocated mat could simply be left where it is.
“We’re not sure what we’re going to do with it,” said Village Manager Peter Scalera. “We’re going to have to sit down and talk it over.”
The village’s engineering firm, Christopher B. Burke Engineering Ltd., is presently drawing up plans to repair both the eroded riverbank and the damaged park areas. Scalera said he expects to receive recommendations from Burke within the next couple of weeks. Scalera said he has not yet received any estimates about what the cost will be to repair the park.
“Our goal is to get it rectified this year and head into next year with it being ready,” said Scalera.
It could have been worse for the village. In June, the Army Corps notified the village that it was simply walking away from the problem. The work had been completed according to the contract specifications and the damage was caused by an act of God, said Jeffrey Zuercher, the Army Corps project engineer in charge of the Hofmann dam removal and Swan Pond improvements.
“It is unfortunate that there was an ice jam and resulting flood this past winter, but that does not make the [Corps] or [Illinois Department of Natural Resources] responsible for repairing damage to village property that occurred as a result,” Zuercher wrote on June 18.
In response, Sells fired off a letter accusing the Army Corps of breaking its promises to the residents of Riverside.
“The project was supposed to provide ecological restoration of the park and ensure a functional space for recreational activities for residents and visitors. Neither has been achieved,” Sells wrote on June 20. “Had our village known we were going to be left with the current state of affairs we never would have entered into our agreement with the Army Corps.”
On July 11, the Army Corps responded to Sells, saying it would fix the eroded riverbank near the outlet pipe.
“I don’t know what else we can do other than what we’ve done,” said Sells. “We’re going to have to go down there, fill it, grade it and replant [the park area near the culvert].
This story has been changed to correct the dimensions of the wetland plantings mat.