WINNETKA – Winnetka council members grappled with how best to proceed with a stormwater plan that includes storage on public lands owned by other governing bodies such as the Cook County Forest Preserve and New Trier Township High School at a study session on October 13.
In fall 2015 the village hired consultants Strand Associates to develop a plan to relieve western and southwestern Winnetka from the flooding that plagues those areas, after abandoning an earlier stormwater tunnel proposal due to run-away costs.
In June 2016, Strand presented a four-phase, $57.7 million plan that included conveying stormwater to various storage sites throughout the village and forest preserve. At that time village officials asked staff to create an early action plan drawing from portions of the overall plan, as the village continued to work with the forest preserve, New Trier, Winnetka School District 36 and the Winnetka Park District for permission to store water on their properties.
But the entire project hinges primarily on approval from the forest preserve, Steve Saunders, village engineer told the council. Saunders spoke optimistically about village discussions with forest preserve leaders, indicating that an agreement may be ready for consideration by the council and forest preserve board by early 2017.
“The timing of this is contingent on approval from the forest preserve and continuing ongoing discussion with other public landowners that we would like to partner with,” Saunders said.
Consultants Strand Associates proposed a $9.8 million early action plan that would include storing stormwater underground at Duke Childs Field, conveyance improvements along the “tree streets,” and green infrastructure improvements. This plan would provide protection for a 10-year storm event for homes in the tree streets by 2018.
While Mike Waldron of Strand Associates acknowledged that New Trier board members had expressed reservations about the original plans for an above-ground stormwater storage over the playing fields, he said the underground storage alternative could be a more palatable option. Going underground will add about $2.5 million to the cost of the project.
Village Council members expressed concerns about heading forward with a costly plan at this stage, when approval from the forest preserve is not a sure thing. “For me to spend $10 million for a handful of houses to get protection doesn’t make sense. But another way to look at it this is if Cook County gives us a go ahead it makes a lot of sense,” Trustee Scott Myers said.
President Gene Greable spoke optimistically about moving forward with the overall plan, once the village received approval from the forest preserve. “I think we have to be positive and work with the forest preserve to get this resolved for the community of Winnetka. To me there is no other option. I want to thank the forest preserve for the way they have worked with us,” he said.
Trustee Bill Krucks, who lives in southwestern Winnetka, spoke more urgently about the need to take immediate action. “I know the pain and suffering the people in my neighborhood have experienced year after year.”
But early action at this stage may mean continuing to work with stakeholders to secure permission before putting an engineering plan into place. “The beautiful thing about the engagement piece, at least in mind, is that (it doesn’t) cost anything,” Trustee Chris Rintz said.
Residents of the “tree streets” urged the council to move forward with the Duke Childs plan. “We need relief and we need it now,” Hugh Abrams said. “This is a no-brainer. This is easy. This will give us some relief,” he said.
Council members responded that they were not against the Duke Childs plan, but envisioned more discussions with stakeholders such as New Trier and the forest preserve before drawing up engineering plans. Saunders noted that many people have been trying to solve this problem since the 1930s. “The conclusion is that if it were easy and cheap someone would have done it already,” Saunders told the council.
At this point early action is likely to mean further discussions with stakeholders. “We are in substantive discussions with the forest preserve that are moving in a positive direction. Steve (Saunders) is in positive talks with New Trier,” Rintz said.