Riverside Village President Ben Sells said last week that the village board would not vote on whether to construct a floodwall along the Des Plaines River until the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) performs an analysis to see whether the proposed floodwall would exempt homeowners near the river from having to buy flood insurance.

Waiting for that analysis could delay the time table for approving the floodwall, and could impact the village board’s decision on whether to move ahead with the project at all.

“I think before we can make that decision, we’re going to need to see that conditional analysis done with regard to FEMA and the floodplain issue and the insurance issue,” Sells said during a presentation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the village board’s Nov. 21 meeting. “That’s going to be a major benefit to the residents who are in the existing floodplain.”

Jeff Zuercher, the floodwall project manager from the Army Corps of Engineers indicated that agency might be ready to ask the village for a decision on moving forward in early 2020, but that could now be delayed for several weeks.

“It may push our schedule a little bit; I can definitely see that happening,” Zuercher said. “That could be four to six months from when we initiate [the FEMA review process].”

Zuercher said the Army Corps would put together a time line and a cost estimate for the FEMA review process, which he would bring back to the village board for approval before starting that effort.

“You can decide at that point what you’d like to do,” Zuercher said.

If FEMA rules that homeowners in the floodplain would need to continue buying flood insurance after the new floodwall is built, that wouldn’t necessarily derail the project, although at least one village trustee voiced that possibility.

“If this does not result in relief from required flood insurance, I’m not quite sure what the point of this exercise is,” said Trustee Edward Hannon. 

But, Sells responded that “the point of the exercise would be to get relief from the flood.”

Zuercher also unveiled a revised time line for the project, not counting any delay related to the requested FEMA analysis, if Riverside eventually approves it.

Under the latest timeline, the earlier construction would begin would be spring/summer 2022 and the Army Corps estimates that it could take two years to complete the project.

Zuercher said that construction would migrate as it progressed and that no one property was likely to be a construction zone for the entire period of time.

Residents who live on Maplewood Road, just north of Park Place, reiterated doubts about the scientific modeling performed by the Army Corps of Engineers, which shows the construction of a floodwall extension along the entire north side of Park Place would not increase the risk of flooding on Maplewood Road.

The construction of the floodwall along Park Place is intended to prevent flood water from spilling through a low spot near the intersection of Park Place and Groveland Avenue and flooding the area south of Park Place.

The floodwall, said Zuercher, would not force flood water north and east. Rather, it would continue to flow downstream. Even though it looks like a lot of water, it represents a tiny fraction of the water that flows down the Des Plaines at flood stage.

“When we wall off this area, the amount of water that comes in [to the area south of Park Place] does not significantly raise the flow that’s going through this area,” Zuercher said. “The amount is so small, it’s almost immeasurable.”

Despite the assurance, Groveland Avenue resident Richard Rankin said he was “on the fence” about the floodwall, despite his property flooding twice in the past decade, an experience he called “horrendous.”

“If these people up here [on Maplewood Road] get a drop more water in their yards or in their basements, I won’t be happy,” said Rankin, who added he was representing other property owners in the neighborhood.

In response to West Avenue resident Patrick O’Laughlin’s question about water pooling on the land side of the floodwall during heavy storm events, Zuercher said the Army Corps was proposing installing a pair of pump stations south of the Forest Avenue bridge, to prevent that from happening.

Zuercher also did not rule out the possibility that the Army Corps might be able to place earth against east side of the floodwall, as it is appears on Groveland Avenue now, to soften the barrier’s appearance. However, that remains to be seen.