A plan nearly 20 years in the making to build a reservoir that would alleviate flooding in the Des Plaines River watershed is finally moving forward.
The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District has begun engineering and design work for the Buffalo Creek reservoir project targeted for Wheeling's 100-acre Heritage Park, south of Dundee Road and west of Wolf Road.
The reservoir would serve as a compensatory storage area for waters held back by Levee 37, 2.3 miles downstream.
Levee 37 is a roughly $28 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project currently underway to prevent flooding in neighborhoods west of the Des Plaines River in Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights and a portion of unincorporated Cook County.
The reservoir would have been built before Levee 37 construction began. But the project was delayed for years due to funding issues and because an earlier chosen site in Buffalo Grove fell through when an agreement could not be reached with the Lake County Forest Preserve District.
Heritage Park was second on the list of preferred sites for the reservoir. After two years of negotiations, MWRD inked the deal in April with Wheeling Park District and the village of Wheeling allowing the reservoir to be built at Heritage Park. MWRD recently purchased 14 acres along Wolf Road from the park district for $3.6 million to build the reservoir.
Aside from its regional impact on flood control, the reservoir project is a boon to Wheeling residents because it includes nearly $10 million worth of improvements to Heritage Park, said Wheeling Park District Executive Director Jan Buchs.
According to the agreement, MWRD will help redevelop 80 acres of the park, providing recreational amenities and other improvements such as a band shell for concerts and movies, a baseball/softball sports complex with electric scoreboards and lighted fields, a pavilion, walking paths, and nature viewings areas.
"It's been a long range plan here for over 20 years to redevelop this park," Buchs said. "Obviously, the cost savings to local residents is significant, and it's also providing a benefit to the larger community."
The Heritage Park master plan calls for creating a large playground, tennis and basketball courts at the main entry into the park on the north end of town off Dundee Road. A second entrance on the east end from Wolf Road would lead directly to a ballfield complex with concessions and restrooms. The east entrance also includes a pedestrian-only path.
"Without a partnership like this, it would take us a lot longer for us to develop this park as designed, and it would be done in phases," Buchs said. "This has been a long sought-after project for our residents so the benefit for the community is tremendous to have a park like this be developed, especially given the economic times."
Des Plaines and Mount Prospect officials also are thrilled the reservoir project is finally moving ahead.
Officials said the reservoir is key to completing construction of Levee 37 - which is nearly 80 percent built, but stalled at the moment by the ongoing construction workers' strike. The levee is being erected along the east side of River Road and Milwaukee Avenue from Euclid Avenue to Palatine Road.
Mount Prospect Village Manager Mike Janonis said workers cannot close a 600-foot-wide gap in the nearly 2.5-milelong floodwall without the necessary compensatory storage being built first.
"The compensatory storage is kind of a relief valve so the net effect is that it's not pushing more water to communities downstream from us," Janonis said.
Des Plaines leaders pushed to speed up the reservoir's construction worried that towns near the levee would sandbag the 600-foot gap shut in a heavy flood forcing water south into Des Plaines.
"That's how sometimes the governmental process works - it takes time," Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan said. "We were vigilant, and so were our elected officials. Everybody cooperated. As the end result, we have retention."
Construction of the roughly $25 million reservoir project will likely begin in early 2012 and be completed by 2013.