WINNETKA – Winnetka officials continue negotiations with the Cook County Forest Preserve, as they seek approval of a plan to store stormwater on Forest Preserve property.
Trustee Chris Rintz provided an update on recent negotiations at a village board meeting on April 6, noting that there have been “very lively and substantive conversations with the Forest Preserve” over the past six months.
Village consultants from Strand Associates have been revamping the stormwater proposal to greatly reduce the fees paid to the Forest Preserve relative to tree mitigation and license fees, according to Rintz. A recent stormwater plan presented to the Forest Preserve sought relief from removing trees in areas that are typically saturated in water. But Forest Preserve officials would not take exception to a county ordinance regarding tree removal, fearing it would set a dangerous precedent.
While Winnetka village officials were disappointed, the Forest Preserve’s position “opened up a whole new line of conversations,” according to Rintz. Strand revised its plan for a third time, saving about 50 more trees from removal. Many of the trees the new plan saves are larger, such as Poplars and Cottonwoods, that are situated along the banks of the channel. The village is poised to save more money on tree fees, since fees for larger trees can run particularly high, according to Rintz.
At this point, Strand is assembling a full blown proposal that will be reviewed by the Forest Preserve. Rintz expressed his optimism about the latest plan. “Part of it is we won’t be looking for any fee waivers whatsoever. It is a straight deal from their standpoint,” Rintz said.
While past proposals have received push-back from the community, Rintz also opined that this latest proposal will likely be supported by local advocacy groups. “To be honest with you, from a lot of perspectives, I think the plan we are currently developing is going to be embraced very well from the advocacy groups and by the Forest Preserve as well, because we are taking down fewer trees,” he said.
Moving forward, if village officials receive positive feedback, the next step will include completing a rough draft of a memorandum of understanding that will be reviewed by the village board and the community. “It certainly doesn’t mean we are out of the woods. There are a lot of moving parts and certainly there is a point in the near future where we are going to have to embrace and engage the two primary advocacy groups, Friends of the Forest Preserve and Open Lands,” Rintz said.
Trustee Scott Myers asked whether the latest proposal will meet the village’s goal of being attractive and enhancing the area, while serving as an effective solution to flooding problems. Rintz responded that he believes the plan is moving in that direction. “I think the latest proposal has some features that are both attractive to the Forest Preserve and will be attractive to the general public,” he said.