The Village of Oak Park announced last week that residents who experienced flooding in their homes in July will not be eligible for federal aid.
That's because the level of damage caused during a heavy rainstorm, July 23, was "insufficient" to declare the village a disaster area, according to a letter sent to the village from the Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
The county made the determination after examining flood reports from throughout the area. Village Manager Tom Barwin said the news is disappointing, though not a huge surprise when July's storm is compared to the much heavier rains in July 2010, which did result in assistance to private homeowners.
Last year's storm caused 10 times as much damage to public property and twice as much damage to individual homes, Barwin said.
"I kind of figured this is how it would go, while hoping and advocating that we'd get some assistance," he said.
The state could have gone ahead and declared a disaster, despite the county's decision, but chose not to, according to Rob Cole, assistant village manager. Thus, there is no alternate recourse for Oak Park or other communities to obtain federal relief.
Oak Park, however, is considering starting a program where it would assist residents in installing flood-prevention devices, such as overhead sewers or backflow prevention devices. Public Works Director John Wielebnicki is gathering info on similar programs in surrounding communities and plans to propose options during upcoming budget talks in the coming months.
Village staff is expected to present a report on the flooding to the village board in September, with an initial discussion likely starting at the Sept. 6 board meeting.
Some 321 residents in Oak Park filled out forms, outlining the amount of damage that flooding caused to their homes July 23. Village Trustee Adam Salzman — who lives in northeast Oak Park, and experienced sewage backing up in his basement in July — thinks flooding like the past two Julys is going to be a frequent occurrence because of climate change. He believes Oak Park should be better prepared next time around.
"You can't treat it like it's a deviation from the norm," he said. "We have a responsibility within village boundaries — notwithstanding what's going on with the county or the federal government — to make sure that our sewer infrastructure is equipped to handle that kind of extreme weather because it's just a fact of life in the 21st century."