Geneva may hire firm to fix Prairie Green Preserve, sell wetland credits

  • The City of Geneva may take another stab at operating a wetlands bank at the Prairie Green Preserve, by partnering with a private company.

      The City of Geneva may take another stab at operating a wetlands bank at the Prairie Green Preserve, by partnering with a private company. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 12/31/2015 6:27 PM

Geneva may try one more time to get the Prairie Green Preserve to help pay for itself by hiring a firm to fix the site's 80 acres of wetlands and then sell wetland credits.

The council is expected to vote in January whether to hire Land and Water Resources Inc. of Rosemont.

 

The firm would repair drainage, and try to get the Army Corps of Engineers to recertify 35 acres it initially certified in 2010 as eligible for a wetland mitigation bank. The bank is a way for land developers elsewhere in a watershed to compensate for filling in wetlands, instead of having to build replacement wetlands or water retention areas on their sites.

Then it would work on getting the rest of the wetlands certified. The idea is that the company would take the financial risk of making the repairs, and make money after the city gets enough to pay off the rest of what it owes on the preserve.

The 573-acre preserve is west of Peck Road, between Bricher and Keslinger roads. Much of it had been drained for farmland. Voters in 1997 agreed to have the city borrow $10 million to buy the land, and purchases were made between 1998 and 2003. The Kane County Forest Preserve District also bought 80 acres, and the state gave the city 140 acres.

The city recreated wetlands and installed a pedestrian and bicycle trail. It studied what threatened and endangered species resided there, mapped the soils, moved earth, built berms, installed monitoring wells and collected data. It also ran water lines to a portion that is now the Geneva Community Gardens plot area.

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It does make some money each year by renting fields to a farmer.

The city still has about $4 million in principal to repay, according to city officials.

The wetlands are supposed to handle water from the north part of the Upper Mill Creek sub-watershed of the Fox River Watershed. Developers of property in Kane County, and part of far western Cook County near Streamwood, who fill in wetlands could buy wetland-bank credits.

Geneva expected to make $45,000 to $60,000 per acre from the sale of the credits.

But by fall 2014, the city had lost the Army Corps' certification.

First the wetlands had flooded in 2009, destroying much of what had been planted. Then it went dry. A study showed that pipes, control valves and pipe connections have failed. Some of the valves are damaged or missing, according to John Ryan, president of Land and Water Resources. If his firm is hired, it would likely perform up to $50,000 in repairs to the hydrology system. That would not include the cost of redoing plantings.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Ryan said demand has resumed for wetland credits as the economy has picked up after the 2008 recession. "For the last few months, I haven't had any inventory," he said. He said one of his last sales, for a Lake County mitigation bank, was around $80,000 per credit acre.

Alderman Craig Maladra was skeptical. "I think that we've taken three swings at this and whiffed every time," he said.

Alderman Jim Radecki noted that selling wetland mitigation credits was never part of the original plan. "This was never a profit venture back in 1997," Radecki said. Voters approved it to prevent more development on the west side of town, and to develop a green swath from Peck Farm Park on the south to Route 38 on the north.

City Administrator Mary McKittrick said a formal proposal would be brought forward for a vote, likely in mid-January.

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