Schneider hearing examines Foxconn's impact on suburban flooding
When John Durning walked into his Libertyville restaurant on July 12, 2017, after a night of historic rainfall, he found his basement kitchen had flooded -- and the water was black.
There were 4 to 6 inches of water, tainted by human waste and grease from the restaurant's grease trap, Durning said.
Two days of round-the-clock work and thousands of dollars later, Pizzeria Deville reopened on a limited service basis. But just six weeks later, the restaurant flooded again, leaving its owner reeling.
"Having to absorb loss of business, pay two insurance deductibles and have to do so without sixty seats of our party room and prep kitchen left me feeling helpless," Durning said. "There has not been a major rainstorm since that I have not sat awake at night or driven directly to the restaurant to see if it's happening again."
Durning shared his experience at a congressional field hearing hosted by U.S. Rep Brad Schneider about the importance of programs to help small businesses recover from disasters and about how flooding in Lake County will likely get worse because of the large-scale Foxconn development up the Des Plaines River in southeast Wisconsin.
Mike Warner, the executive director of the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission, said a recent study that officials commissioned concluded that the Foxconn development has filled in wetlands near the Des Plaines River that in the past have absorbed stormwater and released it slowly, which helps mitigate flooding.
"It's a huge increase in impervious surface," Warner said at the hearing, held at the Wheeling village hall. "All of that benefit that we had of that wetlands to absorb any of that surface water is now gone."
The massive economic incentive package that Wisconsin leaders gave to Foxconn allowed the company to forgo some environmental reviews, said Schneider, a Deerfield Democrat.
Representatives from Foxconn did not respond to a request for comment. In a column written for the Daily Herald and published over the summer, Republican Robin J. Vos, speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly, addressed environmental concerns and said "any worries about flooding downstream should be put at ease."
Louis Woo, special assistant to the chairman and CEO of Foxconn, was invited to the hearing by Schneider but did not attend.
Schneider said the Foxconn development is emblematic of a national problem of vanishing environmental enforcement, which exacerbates damage done by climate change.
"We need to address this deficit, not just to protect affected communities, but also to ensure the longevity of critical programs, such as the Small Business Administration's disaster loan program, that are designed to help the people who own, work at and are served by the local business," he said.
Durning agreed that the loan program should be extended but added that more needed to be done to prevent companies like Foxconn from making the situation worse.
"When I opened my restaurant, I wasn't able to cut any corners, I did exactly what the municipalities told me," Durning said. "And yet I suffer the consequences because someone up the stream was bigger and stronger and mightier than me and didn't have to do any of that stuff."