River Forest officials wrestled with the village’s stormwater master plan at the last September board meeting, but nobody appeared ready to tackle the proposed multi-million-dollar projects that would adequately address flooding concerns.

Officials started the conversation in March about the master plan, commissioned in 2021 in response to flooding in 2020, when Jeff Julkowski of Christopher B. Burke Engineering provided the board with an overview and identified the central portion of the village as being most in need of relief.

Although two public meetings on the master plan had already been held in June 2021, officials suggested scheduling a third public meeting. Despite attendance reportedly being sparse at that meeting, which was held Aug. 1, Jeff Loster, director of public works and development services, said it led to a suggestion that the village create a subsidy program. Similar to three programs already in place, that program would help offset costs associated with stormwater improvements on private property.

Potential improvement projects Julkowski identified in March that would adequately address flooding concerns all carry a hefty price tag. They include an expansion of the relief sewer network in the south section at an estimated cost of $6.9 million; completion of Phase 2 of the Northside Stormwater Project at an estimated cost of $11.4 million; and creating underground storage vaults under Keystone Park and Franklin Avenue in the Lake Street section of the central section at an estimated cost of $9.1 million.

For the rest of the central section, however, Julkowski could only present two feasibility concepts, both of which he said would take years to implement. One concept involves creating storage vaults under streets and keeping combined sewers, at an estimated cost of $80 million, and the other would fully separate the stormwater and sanitary sewers at an estimated cost of $67 million. 

Acknowledging that the central projects are more complicated and more expensive, Loster said those projects have been identified “if the board wants to undertake any of them.”

In response to a question from Trustee Ken Johnson about what other communities are doing to address flooding concerns, Loster said, “It depends on how much space you’ve got for underground storage.”

He noted that the situation in River Forest is complicated by the existence of combined sewers and the fact “that everything is so built out.”

In a memo to Matt Walsh, village administrator, Loster recommended that the remaining administrative components of the master plan be completed but that no additional efforts be made regarding the identified projects.

Those administrative components include recommending potential ordinance modifications and providing an analysis of the Des Plaines River and effects on groundwater, if any. They also include providing a narrative of the interaction between the village sewer network with that of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, as well as a staffing level analysis.

Trustees Lisa Gillis and Respicio Vazquez agreed that the board needs to prioritize the projects.

“We need to decide what we are going to do and what order we’re doing it,” Gillis said.

Board President Catherine Adduci and Trustee Bob O’Connell agreed with Loster’s suggestion that the village undertake short-term projects.

“I don’t think we’re ready to jump into a large project,” O’Connell said.

“I think we need to address smaller projects,” Adduci said, noting the benefit of obtaining grant funding.

Identifying the three main drainage areas as the north, central and south sections of the village, Julkowski explained in March that the types of flooding include overland flooding, yard flooding, riverine flooding and sewer backup. For the purposes of the River Forest plan, sewer backup was identified as the primary focus and yard flooding was not included.

While the south section has a series of relief sewers to supplement capacity and the 2013 Northside Project created a new separate sewer system for the north section, Julkowski said the central section has traditional combined sewers with very limited capacity although the Lake Street area has relief sewers that improve capacity.

The central section “has been very challenging for us,” Julkowski said, noting that it is a large drainage area with few open-space opportunities; limited outfall capacity to the MWRD; and long distances for sewer separation.

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