One month short of the first year anniversary of the most devastating flood in River Forest history, the village board on Monday accepted a series of recommendations addressing flooding and sewer issues.
Public Works Director Greg Kramer said the two key elements in preventing recurrences of the flooding are upgrades to an existing earthen berm and the eventual redesign of the sewer system under Lake Street.
The board approved a $24,953 contract with the Oak Park firm Fluidclarity to study the Lake Street sewer system, $15,000 to purchase a portable 6-inch pump to direct sewer discharge back into the river, and the extension of a “variable subsidy” program to help area homeowners deal with the expense of basement flood prevention.
During the hour long village board discussion, it was clear the feelings of those most affected by last September’s flooding remain a bit raw. After several people pointedly criticized the village at length for not doing enough over the past 11 months, Trustee Mike Gibbs noted that significant changes have occurred and that, “We’re better off than we were 11 months ago.”
“The berms were brought to their original level,” he said of earthen berms west of homes on the north side of Lake that flooded last September. “The sidewalk along Lake was raised, and will function as the sand bags did last fall.”
After several residents expressed frustration at the slow pace of the process, Village President John Rigas and Trustee Steve Dudek urged patience, saying the village is negotiating with such governmental entities as the Cook County Forest Preserve District, which owns the land along the banks of the Des Plaines River, and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, which controls the massive sewer system into which River Forest’s sewers drain.
“Things have to be engineered,” said Rigas.
“The thing that you really need is a berm,” said Dudek, who is a member of the flood and sewer committee. “We have the (permit for) the original berm. The new berm? It’s a toss up,” he said, noting that negotiating with Cook County is a difficult and involved undertaking.
Johann Buis, a resident of the 8100 block of Lake Street is also a member of the flood committee. He called last year’s flood “one of the great disasters of our village” and urged the board to “make all haste to apply for an extension and further upgrade of the berm.”
Buis told the board that an “unscientific” survey of his Lake Street neighbors showed that, on average, each household spent $50,000 dealing with the flood’s consequences. One homeowner, he said, spent nearly $200,000. The village as a whole, he noted, spent maybe $100,000, $80,000 of which was reimbursed by FEMA.
“You’ve not suffered any great financial pain,” he said.
Stopping short of absolute guarantees, Rigas said the village would likely expend the funds needed to enact the flood committee’s recommendations, whether through increased water and sewer rates, or letting bonds.
“We’re on the path to figuring out how to address this,” said Rigas. “This village has a history of doing what we need to do.”
Kramer said a rough estimate of the money needed to fund the residential flood prevention is around $200,000. He added that talks with the county engineer has improved their response, saying, “We feel we’re in a much better position to respond to a flood, based on the discussions we’ve had.”