Earlier this winter the army Corps of Engineers drove stakes into the ground, marking the height of the proposed floodwall. Riverside officials want to string a line between stakes to better demonstrate the wall’s proposed height and placement. | Bob Uphues/Editor

It’s been nearly a year since Riverside officials or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have revealed any substantive news regarding a proposed floodwall that would stretch along the east bank of the Des Plaines River from the BNSF Railroad embankment north to Park Place and then east along the north side of that street to roughly Woodside Road.

But there has been movement, slow though it may be, behind the scenes, they say. And once the snow melts and weather begins to moderate, residents could see some tangible evidence of that work.

“I think things will start to get moving once we get a thaw,” said Village President Joseph Ballerine in a phone interview last week.

Riverside has been waiting for the Army Corps to finalize a survey showing the approximate location and elevations of the proposed floodwall along the river behind residential properties on West Avenue.

Village trustees gave the Army Corps the go-ahead to begin the design engineering for the wall back in December 2020, and initially local officials expected to receive a preliminary alignment of the wall last spring.

Those efforts were delayed by village concerns about the visual impact of the wall, with the village’s Preservation Commission opting to recommend a landscaped, terraced structure facing the river along the rear of the West Avenue properties.

Once the Army Corps had a preliminary layout for the wall, village officials wanted them to run a line down the length of the flood wall to give them and residents a sense of where and how high it would be.

Earlier this winter, Army Corps personnel drove stakes with wall elevation markings on them into the ground but did not string a line between them. Jeff Zuercher, the Army Corps engineer in charge of the project, told the Landmark last week that along West Avenue the wall height was between three and eight feet, depending on the topography of lots there.

Zuercher said one way to mitigate the impact of a wall would be to grade backyards so they rise to meet the wall at a higher elevation. Final plans are still far from complete, he said.

“We haven’t landed on a final decision yet,” Zuercher said.

While the Army Corps apparently has a preliminary layout for the proposed floodwall, it has not been officially handed over to the village yet. The village is also still determined to run a line between the wooden stakes in order to provide the visual illustration of the wall’s height and location as promised last year. 

Riverside Public Works employees will end up running that line, said Village Manager Jessica Frances, along the entire length of the proposed wall.

“[The stakes alone] don’t provide sufficient information for residents in the area, the village board and the community as a whole,” Frances said. “Once the snow melts, we’ll extend those to the appropriate heights so, visually, the community can see what it looks like. … Such a big piece of this is figuring out the height.”

The next thing residents may see with respect to the project is an intergovernmental agreement between the village and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago ensuring that MWRD will reimburse Riverside for any cost incurred acquiring property for floodwall easements.

Those negotiations normally would be handled by the Army Corps, but that agency has asked the village to take on those responsibilities due to a manpower shortage. But, because the Army Corps and MWRD are the principal sponsors of the project, the agreement calls for MWRD to reimburse the Army Corps for costs related to property acquisition.

Frances said the village and MWRD are hammering out a separate agreement related to costs for property acquisition. That deal will need to be approved by the village board before that work begins, and that work can’t start until the Army Corps of Engineers provides the village with a final floodwall layout to determine where easements need to be.

“Unfortunately, because the engineering design has taken such a long time, I don’t have an update at this point,” Frances said. “As soon as I do have it, I want to engage those residents [along West Avenue] and have good information to provide them as well.”