River Forest board flooded with sewer options

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Deborah Kadin

Contributing Reporter

Flooding.

Say that to any resident living on the north end of River Forest and you're bound to hear gnashing of teeth.

With one system handling sanitation and storm water, sewers have a tendency to back up, causing basements to flood. Major roadways also become impassable.

To reduce the potential for basement flooding, the village is considering installing separate sanitary and storm sewers under Greenfield Street.

But the question remains: What will happen to that effort, which could cost as much as $19.4 million, and how it will be funded after the new board and village president are sworn in on Monday, May 13.

Consensus was reached in February on the Greenfield Mainline Separation Project. The project and ways to pay for it were discussed at the April 29 Committee of the Whole meeting, where residents queried officials about both, said Phil Cotter, River Forest's director of Public Works.

"The current board believes that sewer improvements are necessary in the area north of Division Street," Cotter said. "The latest project presented was one the board felt would have a significant impact in improving the sewer system there."

The cost could be paid for by a property tax increase, which might require a referendum or a rise in utility bills, or both, Village President John Rigas said. No decision has been reached.

"The board is leaning toward going to referendum," Rigas said. "This is an issue that needs to be resolved. Every study that's been done shows this is the priority area that remains."

Incoming president Catherine Adduci said the current proposal is a viable one. But she noted that everything's on the table.

"Phasing it in is a good idea," she said. "I'd like to have a couple more public meetings and draw in additional residents so they can become familiar with it."

Adduci said all funding options would be considered, including raising property taxes and utility bills as well as getting state and federal money.

"I don't believe this effort will be stopped," she said. "We will come to a swift decision once we've done all the analysis. We will want to find the most advantageous way to do this to save the taxpayers money."

No issue speaks more to the concerns of residents than what took place late last month when nearly 5 inches of rain fell in a 24-hour period. The Des Plaines River crested at 18.97 feet in River Forest. Backyards became lakes so quickly that some residents even noted on social media sites that ducks took up residence. Homeowners wound up with the dirty task of cleanup.

Since 1972, the village had conducted several studies on how to resolve flooding. In 2012, after one firm had studied the matter, another firm, Christopher Burke Engineering, took it up and made some proposals.

According to Cotter, the project that the village board is considering would create a sanitary sewer along Greenfield Street. It would flow west to Forest Avenue and turn north to North Avenue. It would then flow into the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District's sewer main in Elmwood Park. From there, sewage would flow south along Thatcher Avenue to Stickney where it is treated by the MWRD.

The new storm sewer would also be installed along Greenfield Street. Storm water would flow west to Keystone Avenue and then north to the Des Plaines River.

Alternatives to this particular project would call for the installation of new sanitary sewer lines and use the existing system to handle only storm water. The cost of that proposal is $15.5 million.

The other alternative would allow the project to be done in phases. That price tag would total $18 million.

Flooding issues in the south end were resolved in the 1980s when larger sewers were installed along Madison and Lake streets and Washington Boulevard, Rigas said.

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