All involved agree there is an issue of soil contamination at Lake Street and Lathrop in River Forest. Beyond that though the differences are growing on the River Forest village board over the level of the environmental threat, possible legal liabilities to the village, in what forum – public or private – discussions ought take place and how any of it might impact eventual efforts to redevelopment the commercial parcels.

Those differences, articulated mainly by Village President John Rigas and Trustees Steve Hoke and Steve Dudek, are becoming clearer as the village takes initial steps to use outside advisors to assess the environmental and legal aspects of the issue.

After weeks of contentious discussion in both closed and open session, the village board approved a contract with environmental remediation consultant Tetra Tech Oct. 8. Ten days later, on Oct. 19, the board sat in closed session with an environmental law attorney and a representative of Tetra Tech, to discuss the contamination seemingly caused over decades by dry cleaning solvents leaking from River Forest Cleaners, a longtime shop at 7613 Lake.

Hoke on Tuesday reiterated his position that the village is conducting discussions of environmental threat and legal liability and that those issues must be discussed in public rather than behind closed doors. Rigas countered that there is no known safety threat and no legal liability to the village.

Tetra Tech, in an Oct. 13 memo to the village board, said the remediation of soil contamination stemming from a Lake Street dry cleaner “may be extensive.”

The memo outlines the proposed scope of work by Tetra Tech in and around the 7600 block of Lake Street. Central to that assessment is a review of all environmental reports available to the village as of Sept. 24. Tetra Tech said it will “review environmental documents, conduct a site visit, and meet with the village, the owner and their consultants.”

Tetra Tech will also confirm the extent of any environmental contamination, outline remediation costs and provide the village a timeline for obtaining an “NFR” (no further remediation) letter, from the Illinois EPA, which will legally clear the way for redevelopment of contaminated properties.

Tetra Tech will then summarize the potential issues, identify any incomplete data, present remediation options and give alternative recommendations and cost estimates for further action, “if any.”

“Tetra Tech does not have sufficient information to estimate the level of effort required to complete all of the tasks,” the report states. All subsequent work beyond the initial assessment will be done on a “time and materials” basis.

“The scope of work and cost for oversight will be prepared after all parties have agreed to the scope and timing of remediation activities,” Tetra Tech states.

Approval of the consultant did little to ease pointed disagreement among trustees on how to address the issue of environmental contamination at Lake and Lathrop.

“They can’t even turn on the copy machine for $4,800,” Hoke said Oct. 13 referencing the amount of the village’s initial contract with the firm. “Time ran out about six months ago if you want to do it right.”

Rigas, who has reportedly been meeting with various interested parties related to a development at Lake and Lathrop, called economic development “the priority” and noted the village board has consulted with an environmental attorney regarding Lake and Lathrop.

“He did say this could be accomplished,” said Rigas.

When Trustee Jim Winikates reiterated the point that the board has “not made any decisions,” both Hoke and Trustee Steve Dudek suggested that might not be the case.

“Two weeks ago we hired an attorney and a week ago we hired the environmental consultant,” said Hoke. “I’m seeing things that suggest there is a plan and a scope we haven’t been advised of.”

Dudek complained that the village should under no conditions rely on the opinion of any consultant but its own. Hoke agreed, saying the village needs a fresh, comprehensive environmental study of the area, including and adjacent to the 7600 block of Lake Street, one conducted by its own consultant.

“It should have been $48,000 and they could do some real work,” he said of the Tetra Tech contract.

Hoke said after the Oct. 19 closed session that he was increasingly frustrated with the board’s approach to the issue.

“Now more than ever, we need to have this discussion in public, because of potential public safety issues and liability issues for the village,” he said. “There’s no good reason for a public entity to be having these discussions in private, unless that public entity wants to play real estate developer.”

Hoke added that the receipt of an NFR letter from the state does not protect the village in any way from subsequent lawsuits by other parties.

“Our goal is to evaluate economic development for the community and we’re doing that,” Rigas said Tuesday. He added he was “not aware of any threat” to the public related to contamination of the Lake and Lathrop properties.” He said the village board has asked Tetra Tech to drop test borings on village property along Lathrop, but not Ashland, saying, “There’s no belief it goes that far west.” Dudek said Tuesday he also asked a test hole be bored on the parkway in front of St. Luke’s Church.

Rigas noted that the village does not own any property on Lake Street. The sidewalks and streets between the property lines on either side of Lake Street, he said, are owned by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

He also discounted Hoke’s concerns regarding potential liability, saying, “I believe our attorney said we have no legal liability.”

Join the discussion on social media!