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posted: 4/19/2013 9:59 PM

Des Plaines blames Mt. Prospect, Prospect Hts. for heightened flooding

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  • The original McDonald's is surrounded by water in downtown Des Plaines.

       The original McDonald's is surrounded by water in downtown Des Plaines.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

 
 

Des Plaines officials Friday blamed their counterparts in Mount Prospect and Prospect Heights for making flooding problems worse in Des Plaines by allegedly filling a gap in a levee that they say should have been left open.

The mayors of Mount Prospect and Prospect Heights, however, say not only were their actions authorized by the Army Corps of Engineers, but also that they were in no way to blame for the flooding Des Plaines is experiencing.

Des Plaines acting Mayor Mark Walsten and City Manager Michael Bartholomew issued a statement late Friday afternoon, calling on Mount Prospect and Prospect Heights to immediately restore a gap in Levee 37 they said had been filled Thursday in violation of an Illinois Department of Natural Resources permit and the Illinois River, Lakes and Streams Act.

"Mount Prospect and Prospect Heights violated their permit and increased flood and related hazards for our residents by filling a required gap in Levee 37 that increased flooding in the City of Des Plaines," Walsten wrote. "We call on them to clear the gap immediately and restore the levee to full compliance with the law and the IDNR permit."

The city says the IDNR permit that permitted Levee 37 to be built does not permit the gap to be filled until the Heritage Park water storage reservoir -- now being built in Wheeling -- is completed. Levee 37, built in Mount Prospect, turns water away from that village but drives it downstream to Des Plaines, and the gap is meant to mitigate that.

However, Mount Prospect Mayor Irvana Wilks disagreed, not only about her village playing any role in Des Plaines' problems, but also about what specifically was done Thursday.

She said the gap in Levee 37 was not filled in, but rather that a structure had to be built on which to place the pumps and hoses that are carrying water away from nearby residential areas.

"We did not complete the levee gap," Wilks said. "The gap is still there."

She and Prospect Heights Mayor Nick Helmer say what was done had the full knowledge and authorization of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Helmer said he was happy for it, and the effect it had on 2,000 of his residents who live within half a mile.

Jeff Zuercher, the Army Corps of Engineers project manager for the Des Plaines River flood control project, said Gov. Pat Quinn's declaration of the region as a disaster area effectively suspends other regulations in place that normally keep the gap in the levee open.

"As long as there's a flood situation, that disaster declaration is in effect," Zuercher said.

Zuercher said the agency doesn't tell municipalities "to do or not to do things" -- that Army Corps engineers simply provide advice for communities in flooding situations.

"The corps is here to fight floods for everybody," he said.

Wilks said she truly feels sorry for the residents of Des Plaines, but that there was only so much that can be done to mitigate the fact that its downtown was built in a flood plain.

"I don't fault the people of Gurnee for sandbagging and sending water down the river (to Mount Prospect)," she said.

She also believes that problems with Des Plaines' own Levee 50 have more to do with Des Plaines' flooding problems than does Levee 37 in Mount Prospect.

"I know that Des Plaines is having horrible problems with Levee 50," Wilks said."Levee 50 is not working. It's not because of Mount Prospect."

Bartholomew said he didn't have evidence to contradict Wilks' assessment of Levee 50, but his main hope is that the three communities will be able to meet as soon as possible to discuss the situation.

Bartholomew said his city sent out Friday's news release in an effort to start communication with its neighbors. He said his public works department was not getting its phone calls returned as it tried to reach out during the height of the flooding.

• Daily Herald staff writer Christopher Placek contributed to this report.

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