Geneva's Prairie Green Preserve plan running out of support
Geneva officials hoped the 573-acre Prairie Green Preserve could help pay for itself. That isn't proving to be the case.
They planned to develop about 80 acres of the former farmland -- west of Peck Road and between Keslinger and Bricher roads -- into a wetland that would handle runoff from the northern portion of the Mill Creek Watershed. Companies that built in the watershed could buy credits from the city's "wetland bank," at $45,000 to $60,000 an acre, instead of handling stormwater runoff on their building sites as required.
Pipes were installed, berms were built, vegetation was planted on 25 acres. The Army Corps of Engineers gave the go-ahead in 2010 to start selling credits.
But nature and the economy have thwarted the plan. And now the city can't sell any credits, as the wetland is malfunctioning and the Corps of Engineers has withdrawn its approval.
Monday night, Geneva aldermen indicated they have had enough.
Give up on wetland
In an informal discussion, they said they favor leaving the would-be wetland as is, or contracting with a private company to fix it, manage it and sell the credits.
Community development director Dick Untch said a new study showed last week that pipes, control valves and pipe connections have failed. Long sections of the two main pipes through the preserve have collapsed. The discharge pipe from the preserve's south end isn't large enough, and drainage tiles on private property to the south have failed, exacerbating the problem.
In 2009, 50 acres of the wetland flooded unexpectedly, destroying what had been planted. Two years later, the wetland was too dry. Different plants were tried in nine test plots planted in 2012, and monitored in 2013 and 2014. All the plots failed, Untch said.
Engineers estimate it would cost about $31,000 to fix. That doesn't include new plants or seeds.
Alderman Richard Marks asked how much money the city has sunk in to the project. "Let me put it like this: Too much," responded City Administrator Mary McKittrick. Through 2010, the city had spent at least $2 million improving the preserve, including the wetland project and building a trail. The Geneva Community Garden was also installed by the Geneva Park District, with the city running water to the plots.
"Personally, I wouldn't spend another dime," Mayor Kevin Burns said.
And he doesn't like the idea of turning the site over to the Kane County Forest Preserve District, which the two governments have discussed.
"I would be opposed to ever seeing the 580 acres of land we own being transferred to another governing body," Burns said. "To transfer that land to the forest preserve or another entity, we lose our control of our destiny. They could put something on there that would be a blemish."
The city voters who approved borrowing $10 million in 1997 to buy the land did so to keep open space on the western edge of town, he said. The forest district already owns 40 acres of the site.
One idea for the site would have a private wetland-bank operator take over operations, and split the profits from credit sales with the city. Another option is to just give up on the wetland idea altogether.
The city budgeted $107,450 this year for property taxes, maintenance, plantings and improvement projects. It rents 286 acres to a farmer, for $107,400 a year.
"I just get this uneasy feeling that we're in a hole that is running with quicksand," said Alderman Tom Simonian.