After years of planning, the Des Plaines River flood control project at Heritage Park in Wheeling got under way Monday with two years of construction in store.
But at the end of those two years, the $30 million project will give several northwest suburbs a big reduction in river flooding -- and Wheeling will have a renovated park.
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The project will be mostly funded by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.
"It's going to be wonderful for the residents and the whole community," Village President Judy Abruscato said. "It's a great thing, I'm just sorry it couldn't have happened sooner."
The project has been developing for more than 20 years and works with the $28 million Levee 37 along the west side of the Des Plaines River Road south of Wheeling, which is already completed except for a 600-foot area that will be finished after Heritage Park is done.
Seven water detention basins upstream at Heritage Park will compensate for the rising waters caused by the levee and will have the capacity to hold up to 49 million gallons of rainwater, preventing flood events that have long plagued the area, officials said.
According to the MWRD, the levee will help alleviate flooding for 393 single-family homes, 54 multifamily homes and 25 commercial areas over 254 acres, mostly in Mount Prospect and Prospect Heights.
Once the project is finished, residents of those communities will be less scared when the rain starts, Prospect Heights Mayor Nick Helmer said.
"It's an engineering wonder for our area," Helmer said. "People have much less of a chance of flooding compared to in the past. Before, it would start to rain and people would panic and get the sandbags ready, but this will help ease those fears and alleviate the problems."
Helmer has been a part of the project for years and lived near Heritage Park nearly 40 years ago. He said he's thrilled to see it come to fruition for the thousands of residents whose homes and parking lots have been flooding for decades.
Wheeling officials are excited about how Wheeling Park will be transformed by a new athletic complex with four artificial turf fields, three for baseball and another for football or soccer.
"Everyone here is looking forward to the end result. We know construction is going to take time, but once it's completed it will certainly be a park for all to enjoy, both the residents of Wheeling and our surrounding communities," said Jan Buchs, executive director of the Wheeling Park District.
Heritage Park will be closed throughout the construction process. Programs held at the park will be relocated to alternate parks in Wheeling, park district officials said.
"It will ease the flooding for Prospect Heights and Mount Prospect, and the venue enhancements that'll be there are going to be phenomenal," Abruscato said. "It'll be a plus all the way around."