Differences between village, parks over Barrie weren't so big


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Barbara Ebner, One View

As a trustee during much of the Barrie Park renovation, and the only elected village official named in your recent article [Reclaiming Barrie Park, Viewpoints, Oct. 12], I must add some further perspective to your "historical" article.

There were two municipal stakeholders in the reclamation of the old gas plant on the Barrie Park site?#34;the park district, for the land under its park, playlot and rec center, and the village, which is responsible for the parkways, sidewalks, streets and infrastructure, and the health, welfare and well-being of the surrounding community, as well as all the citizens of Oak Park.

The park district negotiated for its land, the village negotiated for the infrastructure as well as for the residents of Oak Park. In many cases, these were separate matters, but in others it was absolutely necessary that the two stakeholders be in agreement. Throughout the negotiations, the village and park district successfully put forward a united front to the utility companies. The ad hoc Barrie Park Commission, appointed by the village and park district jointly, and made up of Barrie neighbors and knowledgeable citizens, was one of the avenues used to promote that unity.

For example, the depth of soil removal in the park was solely at the discretion of the park district. Soil removal in the streets and alleys (the pavement providing an environmental barrier) was determined by the village.

Because the two municipal governments had different responsibilities, they needed different consultants. For example, the village needed to be assured that the air quality around the park, and drifting across the community, was not harmful. They hired consultants for this purpose. Each group clearly needed its own legal assistance, and each needed someone who could translate the findings of these highly technical events for their specific responsibilities. There was no falling out between the two entities that made that necessary.

It is also important to point out that the village's part in reclamation, although it didn't restore the snow hill, did result in a spur railroad line next to Barrie Park which transported tons of contaminated soil out and clean soil in, without the need for hundreds of trucks a day driving through the village. This was only through the continuing behind-the-scenes efforts of Rick Kuner (village trustee), Barbara Furlong (village president) and village staff. It was the village that moved the Utilities out of the mindset of testing and protecting only those residences surrounding the park, and set up Areas 2 and 3, protecting all of Oak Park should contaminants be found in a larger area at some later date. It was the village that negotiated the opportunity for residents in Area 1 to relocate for the duration of the environmental clean-up and negotiate with the Utilities for the reclamation of soils and replacement as well as restoration of their individual properties.

The differences of opinion you suggest in your article were based not on substance, but on style. The village wished to negotiate in private. There was an amazing amount of delay and red tape, but these negotiations were successful. The park district chose to make its demands public. At the time, this appeared to do nothing but create rancor and slow the process down even more. Thus the quote you attribute to me, was in the context of wishing the park district would put its demands on the table and negotiate in private with the Utilities.

Finally, in the matter of getting the job done quickly, there was a difference of opinion between the village and the park district. The village had a much stronger interest in time than the park district. Streets were closed, families were living outside their homes, in some cases outside the village, and it was in the best interests of the entire village that Barrie Park be restored and the neighborhood returned to its owners as soon as possible. At several junctures, the differences being negotiated were negligible in terms of the overall health and well being of the citizens. Not unreasonably, various village officials called for negotiations and compromise, particularly when it appeared that the whole project might be stymied over air quality issues almost four years into the clean-up.

The Barrie Park clean-up will go down as a landmark in Oak Park history. It should not be remembered as a wrangle between the village and park district because it wasn't. There was never disagreement that the park should be replaced, the neighborhood restored, and all the citizens freed from any dangers that the old gas plant may have left behind.

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