Solutions to flooding problem identified

Berm, pumps, sewer revamp key to prevention

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By BILL DWYER

Members of the River Forest task force charged with studying issues related to last year's Lake Street flooding held a public presentation at village hall Aug. 25. Of the 20 present, 14 were Lake Street property owners affected by the flood.

While not everyone present was satisfied the village is doing enough to address issues that led to heavy flood damage last year, the response was largely positive.

"Overall I thought it was a productive meeting," said Public Works Director Greg Kramer, who sits on the task force to study sewer system and flooding issues as an ex-officio member. "I think we're moving forward and making good progress."

"The people in attendance understood what we're doing," said task force chairman Rick Gillis, who said several people came up to thank him afterward.

Besides strengthened volunteer efforts and better early warning systems, the key solutions to flood prevention, Gillis said, are berms, pumps, and an engineering study to identify needed fixes to the Lake Street sewer system.

Gillis said engineers with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District said that the First Avenue sewer system, which was installed in 1934, well before the homes along Lake Street, is about two feet higher than the Lake Street sewer system.

"That was a big fact we learned," he said. "During a high water-flow level, what's happening is, the water's so high, the First Avenue sewer is full, the Lake Street sewer is full, and basically the water begins to flow backwards."

"There's no way of stopping it right now," said Gillis.

The second problem involves keeping the river's banks contained during floods, and developing the capacity to redirect back flowing sewer water into the river.

Kramer said the village will also buy several smaller pumps to loan out to home owners dealing with backyard flooding.

"The pump is the short-term solution," said Gillis. "The engineering study and any changes in the sewer system is the long-term solution."

Neither solution will work adequately without the rebuilt earthen berm north of Lake Street, between the river and yards on the 500 block of River Oaks Drive. That berm is now about 2 feet higher than the 2008 flood level.

Responding to criticism that the village shouldn't have to spend money on a consultant, Gillis said that while the village understands the "cobbled together" Lake Street sewer system, detailed study is required before making any request to the MWRD to alter any connections or install a back-flow prevention system.

"We have some general ideas," Gillis said of task force members and village public works staff. "We need people who understand all the options that are available."

He said Oak Park firm FluidClarity, which received a $24,500 contract to study the section of sewer and make recommendations, are experts capable of producing a report that would be accepted by the MWRD. That is essential to any request to alter the sewer's design.

The village was also criticized heavily last year for providing an inadequate advanced warning. The new village board recently approved a contract with an Internet communications provider that already provides notification services to District 90 schools, Connect-ED. The municipal version of that service, Connect-CTY, allows the village to send targeted email, cell, text and land line communications to village residents in the event of emergencies.

"Definitely, people need to sign up for Connect-CTY," said Gillis.

Gillis is also encouraged by the formation of a formal volunteer network organized by resident Ron Sherman. One of the problems last September was identifying potential volunteers, contacting them and waiting for them to arrive on scene.

"We can contact people and have them show up immediately," he said.

Gillis said people need to understand that his committee was not tasked with critiquing the village's response to the flood. He said he was, in fact, "explicitly told" by then-village president Frank Paris not to look at what the village did in the wake of the flooding.

"Our job was to solve the problems," said Gillis. "Not to point fingers, but to find a solution." Any formal critique of how village personnel handled the flood would be found in a report being compiled by Village Administrator Steve Gutierrez. Gillis said he hasn't yet seen a copy of that report.

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