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posted: 9/25/2013 5:00 AM

Editorial: Let's be sure Des Plaines River flood-control projects get done

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  • A flooded used-car lot in Des Plaines last April.

    A flooded used-car lot in Des Plaines last April.
    Daily Herald File Photo / JOE LEWNARD jlewnard@dai

The Daily Herald Editorial Board

For suburban residents living along the Des Plaines River, the headline "27 projects to curb Des Plaines River flooding" in Tuesday's Daily Herald was most definitely welcome news.

Heavy rainfall in April over a short period of time resulted in record flood stages in Des Plaines and Riverside. In the end, after the area was declared a disaster zone, 60,000 applications for financial relief totaling $150 million were approved, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

So with a new report this week from the Army Corps recommending $400 million to $450 million worth of projects to limit flood damage and restore ecosystems along the river from Wisconsin to Riverside, one could assume help -- even 20 years down the road -- is on the way.

But recommendations don't always get implemented. To know this, one only needs to look at what's been accomplished after recommendations were made for the same area more than 25 years ago.

Indeed, the Army Corp proposed a plan for six projects to reduce flooding by 25 percent following two years of severe floods in 1986 and 1987, which had resulted in $100 million in damages. But a look by the Daily Herald at those plans following this year's flooding showed only one of the six projects was finished 27 years later.

One of six. That's not good enough. And certainly not good enough when 27 more projects are being proposed. Certainly cost is a factor, though the expense to clean up a flooding disaster at least three times already should be factored in.

Clearly, the Army Corps sees a need to reduce flooding. But it's government officials -- federal and local -- who need to actually approve the work and get it funded. The federal government would pay 65 percent of each project's cost and local governments -- whether municipal, state or county -- would pay the remaining 35 percent.

One project recommended following the 1980s flooding was the expansion of the Big Bend Lake reservoir, an area that again was heavily affected by the 2013 flooding. The Cook County Forest Preserve district rejected the plan, however, because it would require the removal of about 3,500 trees around the lake, Des Plaines officials said in April. Whether that is a good enough reason not to move forward or whether other options existed is up for debate. But what shouldn't be up for debate is the need to do something.

"When I first moved to Des Plaines, there was no issue with where I lived," Des Plaines resident Margaret Zelk said this week. "But now every year it's getting worse and worse and it's coming more often and coming higher every time. They have do something."

Those affected by flooding need to get their voices heard while these new plans are being discussed. And elected officials -- both local and federal -- need to do their homework and act as swiftly as possible to provide the relief needed for residents like Zelk.

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