'This is a big deal': Lake County gets millions for flood control projects
State funding for 14 projects described as critical to flood control in Lake County were announced Monday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker was joined by community leaders and Democratic legislators at Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep school in Waukegan to launch the $30 million initiative.
"It can't be understated how important this is to our region," said Donny Schmit, Fox Lake mayor and chair of the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission.
The grant, to be officially accepted Tuesday by the county board, is the first installment of $122.1 million targeted for regional stormwater control projects in Lake County.
Flood control is among top regional priorities, legislators composing the Lake County Democratic Caucus said in seeking the funding. Besides causing flooding, stormwater runoff can carry pollutants into waterways, supporters say.
Approved projects include engineering, design and construction for storm sewers, culverts, drainage improvements, stabilization of stream channels and use of basins to store stormwater.
In total, the 14 projects are expected to benefit more than 2,300 properties and 25 roadways in Lake County, according to Pritzker's office. Supporters note that flooding events in Lake County have been increasing and can be expected to worsen because of climate change.
"This is really about investments for the future," said state Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake.
Kurt Woolford, executive director of the stormwater commission, said a record-breaking flood that damaged thousands of homes in July 2017 was a "stress test" that enabled officials to identify problem areas.
"This is a once in a generational opportunity for Lake County," he said of the pending regional projects.
Woolford said four storms that would be expected to happen once a century have occurred in the last four years.
"We know climate change is causing more intense storms," he said. "This is a big deal."
The 14 projects have been under review by county officials for some time. They are part of the Rebuild Illinois capital program approved by state legislators in 2019.
"The Rebuild Illinois capital plan is one of the largest infrastructure investments anywhere in the nation," Pritzker said. Waterways in Lake County make it a great place to live but require efficient infrastructure, he added.
"That's why Rebuild Illinois is investing over $800 million to Lake County alone," he said.
Lake County stormwater projects normally would be funded by Rebuild Illinois, which is secured largely by gas and gambling taxes. But because stormwater control projects are eligible for federal American Rescue Plan Act funding, the $30 million for Lake County was accelerated. The rest of the $122 million will be funded through Rebuild Illinois in coming years.
Two projects will benefit the Cristo Rey area: large culverts and storm sewers extending from Route 120 south to Greenbelt Forest Preserve in Park City, and Dady Slough storage and wetland restoration in Waukegan.
Dady Slough will benefit more than 800 properties in Waukegan and Park City, Woolford said. It also will provide hands-on STEM learning opportunities for Cristo Rey students, who will assume ownership and preservation of the Dady Slough wetland, he added.
Next week, the $2.75 million Burr Oak project in Lake Forest is expected to be the first of the 14 to get underway. The project involves a storm sewer system and underground storage upgrades in the north portion of the downtown area.