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updated: 5/6/2013 7:14 PM

IDNR clears Mt. Prospect, Prospect Hts. in flood dispute

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  • Matthew Jentel, left, and Dave Geist help build a sandbag wall around the home of James Eck last month in the flooded Big Bend neighborhood in Des Plaines.

       Matthew Jentel, left, and Dave Geist help build a sandbag wall around the home of James Eck last month in the flooded Big Bend neighborhood in Des Plaines.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

 
 

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has cleared Prospect Heights and Mount Prospect of allegations they violated a permit governing the construction of Levee 37 along the Des Plaines River at the height of last month's flooding.

Des Plaines officials had accused the two communities of illegally closing a gap in the levee during the April 18 flood, making problems in their city worse.

But a letter from the IDNR to Des Plaines acting Mayor Mark Walsten states Prospect Heights and Mount Prospect did not violate the Levee 37 permit by installing temporary "jersey barriers" along a 600-foot gap in the levee. Although the permit states the gap cannot be closed until other mitigation is in place -- namely the Heritage Park Reservoir -- the jersey barriers were "not a complete closure of the height of the gap," according to the letter,

"Temporary flood fighting does not constitute completion of the levee as described in the IDNR permit, and therefore the IDNR does not intend to cite Mount Prospect and Prospect Heights for any violation of the permit," the ruling states.

The IDNR also found that any additional flooding resulting from the towns' actions was mitigated by significant flood storage capacity in the unfinished Heritage Park Reservoir, meaning there was no negative effect to Des Plaines.

"The recent IDNR ruling confirmed that the city acted appropriately and responsibly in its efforts to combat the record rainfall and subsequent flooding that put the safety and homes of city residents at risk," Prospect Heights Mayor Nicholas Helmer said in a statement Monday. "Moving forward, we want to work with our neighboring communities to improve efforts aimed at controlling and preventing flooding in the future."

Mount Prospect officials have said the temporary barriers were needed to prevent devastation of a neighborhood on the northeast side of the village, and rejected claims the move made matters worse in Des Plaines.

On Monday, Assistant Village Manager David Strahl said officials are looking forward to working with neighboring communities to reduce flooding.

Walsten had asked in an earlier letter to the IDNR if the flood fighting effort in the levee gap was contrary to a 2009 agreement between the communities and IDNR.

The IDNR's April 30 response states the two communities' actions did not "materially" affect the intent of the October 2009 agreement, and did not increase flood stages in Des Plaines.

The letter to Walsten suggests, however, that "better communication and coordination of this change in flood fight alignment would have been helpful in managing the public issues arising from this discussion."

Tim Oakley, Des Plaines director of public works and engineering, said there really is no way to assess the impact of closing the levee gap on flooding in the city. The issue is beyond the city's control, he added.

"It's their decision to make," he said.

• Daily Herald staff writer Madhu Krishnamurthy contributed to this report.

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