By Carol Kania Morency
The 12 homeowners who have applied for a city subsidy to install a rear-yard drain are the last, at least until March.
Aldermen Monday voted to suspend the program, which is designed to help residents alleviate flooding in their back yards. The program may return, but not until aldermen study how it fits into the city’s overall stormwater management strategy.
The rear-yard drain program provides up to $1,000 toward the cost of connecting downspouts and sump pumps to the city's storm sewer, and/or installing a drain in the back yard, all with the goal of reducing standing water in natural low spots.
The Public Works and Buildings Committee recommended the suspension of new applications and funding for the program while the city continues work on an overall flood mitigation plan.
"All this report does is give us some breathing space," 1st Ward Alderman Diane Gutenkauf said.
There are 12 outstanding estimates for work at this time, and all of those homeowners will be eligible for funding. Homeowners can elect to do the work without a subsidy, but they still must go through the city permitting process.
The program does not affect new construction; the committee has been debating making on-site stormwater storage a mandate for new homes.
Some aldermen, however, were unconvinced that suspending the rear-yard funding would have any impact.
“There seems to be a lot of blame on both new homes and rear-yard drains for flooding problems,” said 5th Ward Alderman Chris Healy. But staff research shows that neighboring suburbs have a range of practices in place, yet all have sustained flooding at the same times as Elmhurst, he said.
"I'm hesitant to take what has been a good policy and suspend it,” Healy said.
The city needs to start tackling the real solution: acquiring or reengineering property to store more water, Healy said. A plan to excavate park and school property is in play, but it requires the cooperation of Elmhurst Unit District 205 and Elmhurst Park District. Intergovernmental negotiations are ongoing.
Committee Chairman and 6th Ward Alderman James Kennedy, in his minority report, recommended keeping the program in place, but that idea was not supported by the council.
"This is really simple and quite benign,” Gutenkauf said.
"It's benign until you're the next one that applies,” Healy countered.
Third Ward Alderman Michael Bram said that halting the program temporarily sends a message to residents that the City Council has heard them.
"Why continue a program that may be flawed?” he asked.
Kennedy said the committee will return with more ideas about the future of the program by March.