WILMETTE – The Wilmette Village Board of Trustees voted 5-1 at a special meeting on April 17 in favor of a neighborhood stormwater storage option that is projected to protect the fewest number of homes but is also the least expensive option. It is estimated to cost $48 million to $55 million.
While the trustees agreed that laying new sewer pipes would likely be the most effective way to solve west Wilmette’s flooding problems, they also agreed that the village could not afford to spend up to $95 million on a capital project. “We are talking about a lot of money for a community of this size,” President Bob Bielinski said.
Trustee Joel Kurzman was the sole vote against the storage option, favoring instead an investment in the more costly sewer conveyance option.
The neighborhood storage option — described as option three in the village literature — includes 3.3 miles of new sewer pipes to convey stormwater to three storage facilities. The facilities will be located beneath Thornwood Park, Hubbard Park, and either Centennial Park or the Community Playfield. The engineering firm Stantac estimated that the storage facilities would reduce vulnerable structures by 71% and vulnerable properties by 67% in significant rain events. It primarily would benefit the neighborhoods surrounding the storage facilities.
“The best way to think about it is that it is a bulge in the system,” Joe Johnson, an engineer with Stantec, said. The storage facilities will hold water and slowly drain in less than a day, depending upon the storm, he said. The plan protects against a 10-year storm event, which has a 10% chance of occurring in any given year, and equates to 2.86 inches of rain in three hours.
Since all of the parks are owned by the Wilmette Park District, village staff plans to immediately begin discussions with the park board. Village Manager Tim Frenzer said only informal talks have been held with the park district up to this point. Discussions with Wilmette Public School District 39 will also be necessary regarding the Community Playfield, since access to the park will be an issue, Frenzer said.
All of the storage facilities will be constructed underground and the village plans to restore the parks so that they look virtually the same as they do now, Village Engineer Brigitte Berger-Raish said. She pointed to the completion of the West Park sewer reservoir as a prime example of the village’s success in this regard.
Many of the residents who spoke at the meeting supported laying new pipes in West Wilmette, the most effective and costly option proposed. “Doing the right thing the first time and spending extra money now is a much more economic way to solve the problem,” Eunice Shapiro said.
But ultimately, the issue of cost proved to be a sticking point for the majority of the board.
The project will be funded with 30 year debt and those debt payments will be covered with an increase in sewer bill fees, instead of a tax increase, Melinda Malloy, village finance director said. The village estimates a sewer bill increase of $260 per year for the average Wilmette household.
The village currently holds $83 million in debt, of which $49 million is attributable to water and sewer projects, Malloy said. While the village is anticipating rolling off approximately $50 million in debt, it also has its sights on other capital projects such as a $25 million investment in the village water plant and $20-$25 million toward a new police station.
Trustee Dan Sullivan stressed the importance of keeping Wilmette an affordable, diverse village. “I can’t run the numbers for option one without putting Wilmette in financial peril,” he said, noting his support for the storage option.
The board also favored a solution that could provide relief immediately to some residents. “I think that option three gives the most people relief in the shortest amount of time,” Trustee Senta Plunkett said.
Board members agreed that the storage option should be part of a comprehensive plan, and that the pipes should be large enough so that the village could revisit the first option in the future. The board also committed to continually studying stormwater issues as part of its capital improvement plan each year. “This is the start of what I believe is a longer project,” Trustee Kathy Dodd said.
Complementing green infrastructure such as rain gardens and bioswales are also part of the board’s plan, including directions for staff to look at a potential cost-sharing plan for improvements made on private property.
Moving forward, Berger-Raish said the village’s tentative plans are to begin the first phase over this summer and to start construction by the fall of 2019.