Durbin, Schakowsky help celebrate flood relief on Des Plaines River
Federal, state and municipal officials came together Monday morning to mark the successful completion of the $36 million Levee 37 to help control Des Plaines River flooding in Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights and Wheeling.
With all but approximately $100,000 of the project's funding coming from federal sources, it was Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Democratic U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky who kicked off the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"I have been in Congress 17 years, but I actually inherited this project," said Schakowsky, who recalled spending her 60th birthday filling sandbags along the river.
Though 100-year and 500-year storms occur, residents and businesses that neighbor the Des Plaines River have struggled with flooding problems nearly annually, said Schakowsky, a Democrat from Evanston. Levee 37 is now expected to help protect hundreds of homes and prevent about $3 million in flooding damages each year, officials said.
"Back in the time we used to have something called earmarks, I used to earmark this project," Durbin said. "This was a joint project, a common effort, by all of us. I'm glad we made this investment."
Among the agencies that played a role in the project were the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, the Wheeling Park District and Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights and Wheeling.
Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek, whose village houses the levee, said it's a measure of her tenure as an elected official that she was at both the project's groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting. Over the years, she and her colleagues have learned more about hydrology and water management than they ever expected, she added.
Juracek reserved the highest praise for one of her predecessors, former Mayor Gerald "Skip" Farley, for getting the ball rolling on the project.
"Without Skip's persistence, this never would have happened," she said.
Farley recalled that flooding issues were something that became a priority for Mount Prospect almost immediately after he became mayor in 1989.
Coordinating all of the government agencies involved in the project and finding a reservoir with enough capacity for it to work were among the biggest challenges in getting Levee 37 started, he said.
Both he and Juracek said flooding in the area has increased over the years, blaming it on a combination of additional development and poor choices on where and how new buildings were constructed.
Although the new levee is expected to reduce flooding significantly, there has been an unforeseen drawback. Mount Prospect officials say that levee wall that keeps the river from rising into the neighborhood to the west now blocks stormwater that neighborhood from flowing into the river.
Juracek said more pumping capacity and greater sewer capacity is needed to help that water get over and under the wall. While funding will likely drive the speed of such an improvement, she doesn't think it would as difficult or time-consuming as building the levee. Existing backup pumps should be able to help as a stopgap measure, she added.
The sandbagging of River Road, at least, should be a thing of the past with the levee completed, Juracek said.