The Oak Park village board met Monday to discuss nuts-and-bolts items in the proposed 2012 Public Works budget such as tree trimming and replacement, brush removal, flooding remediation and signage.

A new program, with accompanying fee, will allow residents to dispose of brush and branches five times annually during the spring, summer and fall.

Also the village will dedicate money for some sort of flood remediation help for residents whose sewers had backed up during flooding over the past two years. The board, however, pushed back against a federally mandated street sign overhaul, budgeted to cost $200,000.

As for bad news: Jim Semelka, the village forester conceded defeat in the fight against the Emerald Ash Borer, saying all ash trees would be removed from village parkways by 2017. “This bug got away from us. The horse is out of the barn,” said Semelka.

The village’s proposed brush removal program will hire a private contractor to pick up brush from the parkways during spring and summer months. Modeled on programs in communities such as LaGrange, the program will be funded by adding $1.35 per month to Oak Parker’s water/ garbage bills. The village budgeted $200,000 for the program.

The program was created in response to limbs dropped by storm damaged trees. Village foresters are supposed to only collect storm-damaged limbs from parkway trees, but villagers have begun dumping their own damaged branches into the street, said Public Works Director John Wielebnicki.

By instituting a regular brush pickup program, the village hopes to free up manpower and even out the disposal of tree limbs and brush to manageable amounts.

“Branches can be no more than 10 feet long and no more than four inches in diameter,” said Semelka. The village will also return to a four-year parkway tree pruning cycle that should limit storm-damaged limbs.

In response to research done after sewer backups in the northeast corner of the village, the Public Works budget allocated $350,000 for sewer-related expenses. Of that, $150,000 is marked for an overhaul and 3D Graphic Information System (GIS) remapping of the village’s entire sewage system. Though board members questioned this expense, Village Engineer Jim Budrick was insistent that the 3D map was necessary.

“We need a model of the water system — which is 120 years old — as a tool we can use every day. We’re spending over a million dollars on capital projects and we need to know the sizes of the water pipes,” Budrick said.

The remaining $200,000 of “flood money” will be held aside for short term flood remediation solutions, discussed at a meeting last Thursday. These may include: a cost-sharing program for residents to install overhead- or partial overhead sewage systems or valves; a public downspout disconnection education campaign and enforcement; creation of bioswale temporary water containment to hold flood waters; restrictor devices in catch basins. Village staff will present recommendations for the money at later meetings.

The village is also crafting a “Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan” with the villages of Berwyn and Cicero — which is a requirement to apply for FEMA flood remediation money.

The plan to pay $200,000 to replace street signs in the village with larger, more reflective and easier-to-read signs was shot down by the board. Even though the federal government is requiring the new signs by 2014, President David Pope said, “There’s a lot of push-back among mayors and [municipal administrators] about replacing signs.” He called the replacement program an “unfunded mandate.”

The signs in question are 10 years past their natural life, said Village Manager Tom Barwin, and many have lost their reflectivity. Barwin said police encourage larger, more visible signs to help villagers report crimes quickly in emergency situations.

The board, specifically Ray Johnson and Pope, countered with a proposal for “spot replacement” of signage as needed, or on major thoroughfares. Trustees also recommended “lowering” signs that were too high to be easily visible.

Parkway ash trees are doomed, said Semelka. “The [emerald ash borers] aren’t going anywhere. They got ahead of us so fast. We will wait until those trees are dead, but we’ve got thousands of trees to take out.”

Semelka said the budget set aside $150,000 for replacement parkway trees — but that foresters are in no hurry to “fill every gap.” He said species diversity is the secret to avoiding catastrophic tree epidemics, encouraging “no more than four to five percent” of any one tree species. He told the board that desirable new species such as black locust and sycamore “come online” periodically and the village needs flexibility to plant new species.

Wielebnicki also said that the Public Works department was considering hiring “seasonal help” for some of the village’s forestry demands, such as watering.

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Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...

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