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No Quick Fix for Elmhurst's Flooding Issues

With so much unknown, a comprehensive plan is among the first orders of business.

Fixing the issues that caused severe flooding in about 1,000 of the city's 14,000 homes this summer is not going to happen quickly, according to Elmhurst aldermen. But residents are growing impatient.

"I've been reading everything I can get my hands on," Alderman Steve Morley said at an Aug. 30 City Council meeting. "When I talk to people in the (Sixth) ward, it boils down to timing. How quickly can we get something done?"

The City Council and individual aldermen have been holding flood meetings continuously since the July 24 flood. The common theme in these meetings: not everyone experienced the same problem.

Some residents had sewer backup and a lot of water, some had water pouring over their foundations from backyard "lakes" and others, while they had little water, still had sewer backup.

"Neighbors are fighting neighbors for sewer space; people are putting in backyard drains and the water's not going anywhere," an Oakland Grove resident said at a First Ward flood meeting Aug. 25.

It has been confirmed that Salt Creek didn't overflow its banks, Diane Gutenkauf told the audience that day.

"All the flood-control measures that are supposed to keep Salt Creek from overflowing and wiping out parts of town worked," she said. "What happened is the sanitary sewers and the storm sewers got overwhelmed and caused street flooding and sewer backup."

Residents are still showing up for meetings, albeit not in the same numbers they were in August. Some have said they plan to leave town.

While City Council members haven't been in complete agreement on a course of action, here's what's been done so far:

• The city approved a $20,000 contract with Christopher Burke Engineering as an interim engineer to begin looking at what went wrong, educate the public and begin work on a master plan with city staff. Burke also will screen engineering firms to do the physical work.

• The Federal Emergency Management Association has been awarding an average of $2,400 per household to residents who apply for disaster relief after Illinois was declared a federal disaster area. The deadline to apply for federal funds is Oct. 18 and applications are available at www.elmhurst.org.

• The City Council approved taking $450,000 out of a sewer-lining fund that pays for interior coating for old sanitary sewer pipes to make them stronger. The $450,000 was transferred to a program that will help pay for about 90 residents to install overhead sewer systems in their homes. Overhead sewers prevent sewer backup in basements, officials say. The city will pay half the cost of the installation—which typically costs between $8,000 and $13,000—up to $5,000.

Aldermen Diane Gutenkauf, Michael Bram, Paula Pezza and Pat Shea voted against this proposal.

"We're supposed to be helping the whole town, the greater good of Elmhurst," Pezza said at a previous meeting.

The causes of the flood are debated. Did cracks in the old sewer system allow rainwater to enter, thus overwhelming the 100-year-old system? Did illegally hooked-up sump pumps and downspouts add water to the sanitary system? In the last 10 years, has the development of large homes and buildings added too much concrete and asphalt to the landscape, leaving the water nowhere to go?

It's probably a combination of all of the above, aldermen say, and they all agree that a comprehensive study is mandatory.

Fixing the problem will take time—and money.

"Any plan will take up to 10 years to implement and easily cost $25 or $30 million," Alderman Norm Leader said at a Sept. 7 City Council meeting. "And it will not guarantee protection of everyone."

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