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New flood-control plan produces mixed opinions

Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Chicago Tribune
by Jonathan Bullington

A revised Army Corps of Engineers study of possible flood-control projects along the Des Plaines River scrapped a controversial reservoir project near Buffalo Grove in exchange for two smaller reservoirs on Cook County Forest Preserve land.

But although the new plan has some municipal leaders pleased, officials in Des Plaines say they're worried the that reduced floodwater storage capacity of the new reservoirs would lessen potential relief for their city, which is often battered by flooding from its namesake river.

"It falls short," said Tim Oakley, Des Plaines public works director. "We'll be commenting on the revised storage."

The Corps of Engineers studied the upper Des Plaines River and tributaries, from Racine and Kenosha counties in Wisconsin south to Riverside. Last fall, the Corps released a proposal for an estimated $400 million in projects — ideas that included dam removals, new reservoirs and new levees.

One of the largest of those projects was a roughly 2-mile-long levee along the west bank of the Des Plaines River, from Ashland to Fargo avenues in Des Plaines. To store water displaced by that levee, the study called for an Aptakisic Creek reservoir project, which would have created 550 acre-feet of floodwater storage on a 94-acre site in unincorporated Lake County near Buffalo Grove.

The land includes two family farms and is in the process of being annexed into Buffalo Grove, said village President Jeffrey Braiman.

The proposal drew sharp criticism from some in the community and a resolution from the Buffalo Grove Village Board officially opposing the project.

"I'm obviously gratified," Braiman said of the Corps of Engineers' revision. "This proposed plan seems a lot more logical. They're already using public land and not having to impose upon a private landowner."

Instead of one large reservoir, the Corps' new plan proposes two smaller ones: one at the Fullerton Woods Forest Preserve in River Grove and the other at the Harry Semrow Golf Driving Range in Des Plaines.

Combined, the reservoirs would hold 350 acre-feet of floodwater, said Corps project manager Jeff Zuercher. One acre-foot is equivalent to nearly 326,000 gallons of water.

The two reservoirs would act as compensatory storage for the proposed levee in Des Plaines, Zuercher said, just as the Aptakisic Creek reservoir project. But unlike that project, the two would not provide nearly as much flood reduction.

Initial plans would not require the driving range in Des Plaines to close, Zuercher said.

"The reservoir won't be full all the time," he said. "We believe we could design it so it could still be useful as a driving range. Even if it was full and they were adventurous, they could still hit balls out there."

The Fullerton Woods site formerly stored large quantities of limestone from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District's Deep Tunnel project. That limestone has been removed, Zuercher said, and the site is not used for any other purpose.

"Right now, it's literally a field," said Cook County Commissioner Peter Silvestri, whose 9th District includes both proposed reservoir sites.

The tentative proposal could include trails and a picnic area for the public, Zuercher said.

"I think there's a real opportunity," said Karen Vaughan, spokeswoman for the Cook County Forest Preserve District. "We have yet to see specific plans, but we're generally supportive of the concept."

Silvestri said the County Board likely would need to study the environmental impact of the reservoir as well as the potential to provide flood control "for so many residents who are suffering" from the effects of flooding.

"It's very easy to look at this and say we have to weigh the impact on the forest preserve as opposed to the impact on people's basements," he said. "I would propose they're both important missions. If we can't reach that happy medium, then there's going to be a problem."

But, he added, "I'm the eternal optimist."

Public comment on the Corps of Engineers' revised plan will be accepted until Feb. 18. The original report and revisions are available online at 1.usa.gov/1cvDvG2.

Comments can be emailed to UDPR&T@usace.army.mil, or mailed to the attention of Peter Bullock at: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chicago District, 231 S. LaSalle St., Suite 1500, Chicago, IL 60604.



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