Surrounded by Des Plaines floodwaters, residents mull buyout program
Iryna Sikora checked her neighbor's porch steps every 30 minutes Thursday, watching the Des Plaines River creep closer and closer to her home on the other side of Big Bend Drive in Des Plaines.
Her neighborhood is at the heart of the city's flood problems, a stretch of homes built between the two sides of a sharp U-shape curve in the river. Sikora and her neighbors live in the highest concentration of homes eligible for the city's flood buyout program, an effort to remove dozens of buildings from the floodplain.
Sikora's husband died in May, and now she's a single mother of two children worried she won't have a place to live.
"I'm ready to sell my house," she said while sitting near the river as water neared record levels. "I don't want to put my children in danger."
In 2014, a year after the last major flood, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state committed millions to help buy and demolish homes in the floodplain. The state's historic budget stalemate bogged down the program for more than a year, prompting city officials to shift federal grant funds to complete the projects.
That phase of the program is finished, and now second and third rounds of buyouts are underway. Some homeowners were a month away from moving when heavy rainstorms hit Lake County and swelled the river to near-record levels.
Dietrich and Beverly Schwarz returned to their home on Big Bend Drive Friday morning after spending the two previous days at a motel, fearing the worst with the rising flood levels.
Their second round buyout got approved, but they can't move into their new Mount Prospect home until the beginning of August.
They've packed up about 50 boxes so far -- with more to go.
Floodwaters from the nearby river so far on Friday had spared their property, but the threat from previous floods was enough to spur their decision to move after 20 years in Des Plaines.
"I'm 80. I don't want to fool around anymore," said Dietrich, a retired Chicago police officer. "This was hot property before people got wise."
"This was supposed to be our paradise," he said.
By Friday morning, as the river began to crest at just one foot below record levels, water flowed over Big Bend Drive and saturated the ground, causing a large tree in front of Sikora's home to topple onto the street.
This storm may nudge more people toward agreeing to sell their homes and move out of the floodplain.
The city offered to buy Sikora's home for the same amount she and her husband paid to buy the home in 2013 after the last flood. Since then, however, Sikora's family spent a significant amount of money to remodel.
"I spent a lot of money for remodeling and you don't want to give me more?" Sikora said. "It's not fair."
There's a chance the city won't issue permits for homeowners seeking to repair damages that have repeatedly occurred due to flooding, City Manager Mike Bartholomew said.
Each time the city floods, more residents become interested in the buyout program, he said.
"When we have events like this, those on the fence about participating think about changing their minds," Bartholomew said. "I wouldn't be surprised if some more people took advantage of the programs."
• Daily Herald staff writer Christopher Placek contributed to this report.