Tough decisions on flood plan loom for Libertyville
Libertyville's $45.5 million flood reduction plan may seem like it started as a response to historic flooding in July 2017. But by then, an engineering consultant hired by the village already was four months into work on a master plan to better handle stormwater.
Two years later, the master plan outlining flood control projects in 10 areas of town that saw significant flooding after those record storms is headed to the village board for approval.
"The purpose of this plan is to make sure people don't get water in their homes," Mayor Terry Weppler said. "This is the big picture. As we get into each particular area, it will require change."
When the work began in early 2017, Christopher B. Burke Engineering Ltd. used detailed accounts and images from residents to develop and calibrate models tracking the movement of water through town. The numbers were verified by high-water marks recorded during the 2017 storm that dropped 7 inches of rain on the village in 12 hours and overwhelmed an undersized and aging drainage system.
A community workshop and town-hall meetings followed. Responses to online questionnaires as well as 465 door-to-door damage assessments were tallied and assessed.
Next will come the hard parts: getting the public to agree everyone will benefit from the program, deciding which projects should be done first and determining how to pay for them. In that sense, approval of a master stormwater management plan is just a start.
Complexities already have surfaced. The village board planned to approve the final master plan Tuesday, but a vote will be delayed until mid-May to review comments and questions from residents in the hard-hit Highlands subdivision, south of Route 176 near the western end of Rockland Road.
The area -- including Drake, Dawes, Carter, Burdick and Ames streets and Crane Boulevard -- was developed several decades before modern stormwater management design standards. Frequent flooding makes streets impassable and affects homes.
The master plan strives to create infrastructure capable of handling a 100-year storm by increasing the size of storm sewers and adding storage.
But in the Highlands, that would cost an estimated $24.3 million, compared to a 50-year level cost of about $7.6 million. The recommendation is to go with the 50-year option because, officials say, the number of properties that would benefit isn't worth the larger investment.
That's not sitting well with some Highlands residents who spoke out during a recent village board discussion about the plan.
"Every time you hear a clap of thunder, you worry," said Burdick Street resident Brian Garrett. "Is this going to finally allow me to rest?"
Drake Street resident Phyllis Dobbs questioned the estimated amount to be spent per structure in her neighborhood compared with others.
"We have waited patiently," she said. "I have done about every single floodproofing thing I can," but it won't help if water goes over the window wells.
Ames Street resident Rob Stelling said flooding has hurt property values.
"It's probably the biggest challenge you've been faced with," he said.
Trustees assured residents no decisions will be made lightly.
"This is just at the proposal stage -- that's why we encouraged all of you to be here," said Trustee Donna Johnson. "That's what this is about. It's for input."
Trustee Rich Moras emphasized it took a long time to get to this point and nothing has been decided.
"We're not here to lord over the village. We want to make sure everybody is on board with the concept," he said.
Weppler said the master plan likely will be adopted with an explanation that it is subject to change as improvements are considered for individual areas. One possible change for the Ames/Drake area is increasing the size of the retention pond at Nicholas Dowden Park by relocating one of the baseball diamonds, he added.
The board also has to determine how to pay for the projects but plans a town-hall meeting before deciding how to proceed.