Naperville officials say installing fences around retention ponds isn't the best way to prevent drownings, but they're open to other options to increase safety.
Officials are taking a new look at the issue after 6-year-old Amer Khan was found Saturday floating in a pond near 95th Street and Cedar Glade Drive and could not be revived by the neighbor who discovered him or emergency responders.
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The pond, near the Glenmuir Luxury Rental Homes complex where Amer lived, reaches about 10 feet at its deepest point and is one of more than 200 bodies of water in Naperville -- many of them man-made ponds created in recent decades to ease flooding when subdivisions were built, Naperville Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis said.
"Most of the ponds don't have fencing or barriers," Puknaitis said. "It's highly impractical to do that with every pond. Even if you did, there's nothing stopping somebody from scaling it."
Several city council members agree that requiring fencing isn't the best way to prevent future tragedies.
"It's an unfortunate situation ... this has got to be tough on the parents," Councilman Doug Krause said. "But if you look at the history of the city, we haven't had that number (of drownings) that would warrant" mandatory fencing.
The city requires ponds in residential areas to slope more gradually toward their deepest point than ponds in commercial areas -- six feet must pass horizontally in residential ponds for every one-foot drop in depth, compared with only four feet horizontally required for each one-foot drop in a commercial pond.
Bill Novack, Naperville's director of transportation, engineering and development, said staff members would be willing to take another look at pond regulations, which last were closely evaluated in the late 1990s.
"We've always had an eye on safety," Novack said. "We'll gladly assess it if it sparks more conversation."
While fencing may seem an obvious way to prevent children from getting too close to retention ponds or falling in, Novack said there is a stormwater management reason not to install them: they block the flow of water during floods and slow the drainage process.
Novack said a surprising amount of debris gets caught in fencing, and city crews must clear it so water can continue flowing after heavy rains. Fencing also could be expensive and would diminish the aesthetic value people gain from the often natural-looking ponds built in their neighborhoods, Puknaitis and Councilwoman Judy Brodhead said.
"If you put a fence around it, it does become safer for people walking or biking around it perhaps, but it may become less of an amenity, less attractive," Brodhead said. "It may look more like a reservoir."
She said the recent trend toward letting natural vegetation grow along the shores of ponds helps to keep people -- and Canada geese -- away from the water and could contribute to increased safety.
So could using streams landscaped with native plants instead of large ponds to store water, Brodhead and Novack said.
While city officials said they are open to discussing pond-related safety, a staff member at Glenmuir Luxury Rental Homes said the complex's management could not comment about Amer's death or any possible safety changes at that pond, which fire officials described as a T-shaped body of water 500 feet long and 75 feet wide.