Carol Stream finally finding flood solutions
In September 2008, major floods left 17 inches of standing water in Nancy Barcelona's Carol Stream home.
A year ago, she returned from an out-of-state trip to find more flooding: this time, a mere 6 inches.
Last week, Barcelona returned from vacation again and found her neighbor's tree had fallen across her back deck during heavy overnight storms.
She says it's a sign she needs to move.
"Carol Stream is a lovely place to live," said Barcelona, 56, who works as a registrar at Glenbard North High School. "I love my neighborhood. If I could raise my street up 8 feet, I would love it even more."
Barcelona is one of four homeowners who live in Carol Stream's most flood-prone neighborhood and have sought to have their homes purchased by the village as part of a voluntary buyout program. It's one solution local officials have offered in response to the village's ongoing flood problems, which came to a crest a year ago.
In late July, major storms led to the overflow of Klein Creek onto streets and into houses in an area just south of Armstrong Park -- the first neighborhood developed in Carol Stream in the late 1950s. Though flooding two years earlier may have been more severe, the 2010 flood left residents angry with village leaders for what they called a poor response to the emergency.
Residents wondered, where were the results of a flood study that the county was set to begin after the 2008 floods? County officials said there was a misunderstanding caused by the budget cycle, and it had to be pushed back to the next fiscal year.
But even after the study was done, how would recommended improvements be paid for?
Village President Frank Saverino says he's held onto a sign that was posted on a street pole after last year's flood. It reads, "What's the village doing about this? Nothing."
"I keep the sign as a remembrance to make sure it doesn't come true (again)," he said.
Last September, the county board considered a $70 million spending plan that included $5 million for a stormwater management project at Armstrong Park. Saverino, who took flack from residents after the floods, said he lobbied the county board hard for the funds.
"We had to fight for the money," Saverino said. "I learned a lesson. I waited for other people to get things done. I don't do that anymore."
The board narrowly approved the plan.
In late June, the village, park district and county signed off on an intergovernmental agreement that authorizes the work at Armstrong Park, which will include construction of water reservoirs and a pumping station. Officials say the project won't eliminate flooding in the nearby neighborhood, which sits in a floodplain, but it will reduce its likelihood.
If all three governmental entities approve the project's design, construction could begin by next summer.
Money, or lack thereof, has also been a factor in slowing the buyout program for flood-damaged houses like Barcelona's. The program is funded through a combination of county and federal funds, and local officials didn't receive approval of funding requests until last year.
Last month, the village made formal offers to purchase three houses, including Barcelona's on the 500 block of Silverleaf Boulevard. The village has applied for federal funds to purchase a fourth house. Plans call for the houses to be demolished and have the properties kept as grassed lots.
For Barcelona, a three-year wait to move out is almost over. She says she was on board with the buyout program from the beginning and believes the purchase offer on her ranch home -- $211,000 -- is fair.
Most of her furniture is in storage, but she's still living in her house until the deal is finalized and she can afford to close on her purchase of a new home in Lombard.
During those three years, Barcelona and her son Matthew, 28, who is mentally disabled, have stayed with friends while cleanup and renovation work was being done on their house. She says she's lost pictures of her children as infants and other important mementos she'll never get back.
"Every time it starts to rain, I'm cringing," she said.
Despite facing criticism from residents after the July 2010 floods, Saverino narrowly defeated then-Trustee Rick Gieser for village president in this April's election. Gieser, who gave up his seat on the village board to run against Saverino, didn't place blame for the flood response on anyone specifically, instead saying "all of us" were at fault.
In the village board race, one candidate made the flooding issue her own. Mary Frusolone, an administrative assistant with the Carol Stream Park District, argued that village officials didn't do enough to notify residents of the impending flood in 2010.
Now, she's head of the village's disaster preparedness committee, which aims to ready residents for possible future floods, snowstorms or other disasters.
The group is assembling informational packets on what to do during a disaster, while also encouraging residents to sign up for the village's emergency notification system that sends alerts via phone and email.
"If this ever happens again, the village will be on a much higher alert when the storm comes in," Frusolone said. "I think you're seeing the village is taking any kind of disaster more seriously."