WINNETKA – The Winnetka Village Council held a lengthy study session on May 10 that focused exclusively on Strand Associates’ proposed plan to address stormwater issues that plague western and southwestern portions of Winnetka.
On April 12 Strand presented a four-phase $57.7 million plan to the community that includes conveying stormwater to various storage sites throughout the village and forest preserve. None of these properties are owned by the Village of Winnetka, but are owned by other stakeholders such as Winnetka Public School District 36, New Trier High School, Winnetka Park District and Cook County Forest Preserves.
Trustee Bill Krucks noted at the outset of the study session that the plan was still conceptual and that further engagement with the community and stakeholders was necessary before a final plan was approved.
“The last thing we want to do — and the last thing Strand wants to do — is come up with a number of concepts that even though they may sound good, or work from a scientific standpoint, they are simply not feasible to this community and don’t have the support of the community or the [stakeholders],” Krucks said.
Indeed, throughout the meeting council members stressed the importance of garnering the support of not only the property owners, but also the community. “It is clear to me that this council can’t solve any problems like this without the support of the community behind it,” Krucks said.
Steve Saunders, village engineer and director of public works, provided an overview of the proposed plan, which targets a 100-year rain event and aims to prevent homes in western and southwestern Winnetka from flooding. Click here to read a previous Daily North Shore story about the proposal, and click here to read a DNS article about New Trier’s uneasiness about the concept.
A portion of Phase I of Strand’s plan would require an intergovernmental agreement between Winnetka and Cook County Forest Preserve District, permitting the village to store stormwater on forest preserve land at Hibbard Road between Willow Road and Winnetka Avenue. This site would hold 120 acre feet of water — about 3/4 of the volume of water that needs to be stored — and is essentially the linchpin of the entire plan.
While there is no guarantee that the Forest Preserve will approve this plan, Saunders remained optimistic that the village could potentially garner its support. “Their staff has been noticeably more receptive to the approach taken by Strand than the prior approach,” Sanders said.
Phase I of the plan would also include storing water underground at Duke-Childs play field, which is owned by New Trier High School. The plan includes making the landfill a playing field — using soil from dredging the Duke-Childs field — where soccer and lacrosse can be played. While the village would need the support of New Trier High School, members of the school board recently objected to the plan at a recent meeting.
Saunders said moving forward, the village needed to work with New Trier to address the Board of Education’s concerns and determine whether the proposal could work.
The second phase of the plan — and portion that drew the most criticism at the meeting — includes storing water at Crow Island Woods, which is owned by the Winnetka Park District. The stormwater would be conveyed through pipes along privately owned Sunset Road and Mount Pleasant Street and then deposited into a five-foot pool of standing water.
At this point, the village appears to have the support of the Park District, which will manage the process. “We look at ourselves as a partner in this,” Robert Smith, executive director of the Park District said at the study session.
But it isn’t clear that the village has residents’ support. During public comment period residents spoke out against the Crow Island Woods plan, raising numerous concerns including pollution near an elementary school, elevated mosquitos and the potential risk of the Zika virus, drowning risks, cutting down old growth trees and damaging wild life.
“People view Crow Island Woods as a unique treasure to our community,” Jeff Franzen said. Franzen is part of the a group of residents who have organized a grass-roots campaign aimed at protecting Crow Island Woods. “Too many risks and negative impacts come with this proposal,” Franzen said.
Trustee Scott Meyers asked Franzen whether the group would be open to including the woods in the stormwater plan if the issues raised were adequately addressed. Franzen said the ideal outcome would be to keep the woods out of the proposal and urged the council to consider other options.
Trustee Meyers said that they were open to considering other options, but noted there were few options in the built-out suburb. “We’ve been studying this now for almost a decade and there are not a lot of options,” he said.
And other residents also spoke in favor of protecting Crow Island Woods. “This is a special place we are talking about. We have a lot of manmade parks. This is something different,” Bill Fielder said.
Winnetka resident Bill Core questioned the viability of the proposal not only only for Crow Island Woods, but also that New Trier High School expressed serious reservations regarding the plans for Duke-Childs fields. He noted it seemed ill advised to spend more money without support of the stakeholders.
At the end of the study session the trustees stressed that this was the beginning of long process of engaging the public. Trustee Meyers stressed the importance of getting the support of the Forest Preserve and New Trier High School, as well as considering alternatives to Crow Island Woods such as the golf course. The other trustees agreed that going forward the village should focus on securing the support of the Forest Preserve, since it is the linchpin of the entire proposal.