The village of Riverside has received written assurance that it can scuttle the construction of a floodwall that would stretch from Park Place to the BNSF Railroad embankment, but it has to be prior to the start of the final construction design phase.

While that guarantee is not written into a proposed Project Partnership Agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the village has received a letter from Col. Aaron Reisinger, the Chicago District commander for the Army Corps providing that assurance.

“After the functional design is completed, the Corps will meet with the village and we will mutually decide whether to proceed toward construction,” Reisinger wrote to Village President Ben Sells on Nov. 13.

Village trustees are expected to vote on the Project Partnership Agreement and on an intergovernmental agreement with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago at their meeting Dec. 6. Reisinger is expected to attend that meeting.

The two agencies have agreed to share the design and construction costs of the roughly $7.5 million project, which is meant to protect homes near the Des Plaines River in the vicinity of Groveland and Forest avenues. 

If trustees approve the agreements, the year-long design phase is slated to begin in February 2019.

The catch to being able to cut the cord is that it must come at about the halfway point in the design phase, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers Project Manager Jeff Zuercher told the village board on Nov. 15.

And, if the village decides to put the brakes on the project, Riverside would need to reimburse the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District for the money that agency has expended on the project design to that point.

“We would definitively need an answer at 50 percent,” Zuercher said.

According to Zuercher, Riverside was looking at a possible exposure of $100,000 to $150,000 if they chose to cut short the project after the functional design phase.

In a separate interview, Sells told the Landmark that decision day would likely come sometime in late 2019.

The reason a definitive decision is needed at that time, Sells said, is that moving forward would mean acquiring property and completing final construction documents.

What the village will have at that halfway point is a clear understanding of exactly where the flood wall will be located, which properties would be affected and how the wall is going to look.

Residents who attended the village board’s Nov. 15 meeting expressed concerns about the possible loss of dozens of trees along the riverbank and along Park Place as well as the visual impact of the wall itself and its effect on the values of properties near it.

But Trustee Scott Lumsden said a functional design of the project was critical to making any decision on whether to move ahead or not.

“We’re kind of just shooting darts into the air with no target right now,” Lumsden said.

Trustee Joseph Ballerine suggested looping the Riverside Preservation Commission into the conversation to see if the visual impact of the flood wall might jeopardize the village’s national historic landmark status.

“I just think it’s prudent to keep them in the loop sooner than it is later, because as far as we go down the road it just gets more and more expensive,” Ballerine said. One of the easy things we can do right now is get this in front of, at least, preservation.”

Sells said the day after the Nov. 15 village board meeting that Charles Pipal, the chairman of the Riverside Preservation Commission was expected to contact Zuercher and that the Army Corps project manager likely will appear before the commission to present information.