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Groundbreaking celebrates start of Flossmoor’s Berry Lane Drainage Improvement construction

The start of the long-awaited Berry Lane Drainage Improvement Project was celebrated by local officials and residents alike following a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday, May 5.

The event was held on Berry Lane, between Balmoral and MacFarlane crescents. Construction on the storm sewer improvements began roughly three weeks ago with a planned completion date of late October.

During a groundbreaking ceremony for the Berry Lane Drainage Improvement Project held Thursday, May 5,
on Berry Lane, between Balmoral and MacFarlane crescents, (left to right) Rick Bryant, Col. Paul Culberson,
Sandy Hatcher-Holmes, Flossmoor Mayor Michelle Nelson, Lillie Lacey and Valencia Harris celebrate the
start of the project by tossing some dirt on the pile. (Bill Jones/H-F Chronicle)

For Lillie Lacey, who lives just two houses down from where the groundbreaking ceremony took place, this project has been a long time coming. When the street floods, water comes into Lacey’s garage and basement. She said she appealed to the village for years with photos, emails, texts and phone calls before seeing this “tremendous” project start.

“I’m happy,” Lacey said. “This is a good day for me.”

Valencia Harris, who lives right next to the groundbreaking site, said she has gotten 4-5 feet of water in her home on four different occasions since moving there in 2014. Water fills her driveway, which has a downward slope toward the garage, pushes through the garage into the family room and basement. That should soon be a thing of the past.

“My husband and I are very excited for this day to come,” Harris said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Derrick Smith, a 24-year resident of the Heather Hills neighborhood, is a retired electrician who put his children through Homewood-Flossmoor High School. Lately, his children have to help clean the house whenever it floods. It was getting to a point that the family could not do it anymore.

“For the last 20 years, we’ve been dealing with this water situation,” Smith said. “It’s a beautiful neighborhood. It’s a nice place to live. But with that water being the way it was, it was forcing me to have to leave. … This project actually means that I’ll be able to stay in my house.”

The project includes the installation of 2,600 feet of concrete storm sewer, 14 manholes and 18 storm catch basins along Berry Lane, Bob-O-Link, Oakmont Avenue and Maryland Avenue, where it will connect with an existing storm sewer under Sterling Avenue, according to a press release issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The project is designed to reduce both residential and roadway flooding in the Heather Hills neighborhood.

Airy’s Inc., of Tinley Park, is handling construction. Federal funding is covering $1.5 million of the total cost, while the Village of Flossmoor has put in a total of $1.95 million between matching funds and options exercised above the base bid, including the replacing the existing pavement on Berry Lane being with permeable interlocking concrete pavers.

The village also received grants from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to support its flood-mitigation efforts. More than $700,000 in grant money is helping to pay for this work.

During the groundbreaking ceremony, Flossmoor Mayor Michelle Nelson extended her thanks to all of the aforementioned organizations, as well as U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-2) and her staff, who helped secure funds for the project. Nelson also noted the design engineering work of Baxter & Woodman Consulting Engineers. 

In addition to members of the current village board and staff, Nelson also thanked former Mayor Paul Braun and former Trustees Diane Williams and Perry Hoag for the work they did to make this possible. 

“Flossmoor’s strength is in our ability to rally people and resources to solve problems and help each other,” Nelson said. “The flooding on Berry Lane and the Flossmoor Viaduct are definitely big problems.”

Col. Paul Culberson, commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chicago District, also highlighted the fact that so many organizations and people worked together to make the project possible.

“It’s really about all of the partnerships we have that we’re able to accomplish this,” Culberson said.

Public Works Director John Brunke is involved with a number of projects across town as the weather warms. But he said the Berry Lane Drainage Improvements Project was a special cause for celebration.

“This project is very exciting for the village,” Brunke said. “It’s one of our main flooding problem areas. It’s really a big issue. We’re excited about getting this one fixed, because it’s really going to help the residents here from having issues with their homes, getting water in their homes, and access for emergency vehicles, also, that can’t get down the street when it floods.”

As May 5 was the National Day of Prayer, Nelson said her prayer was that workers remain safe throughout the project. And she asked that residents have “a little bit more patience” as the finish line on this project nears, promising it will be worth it.

“The fruits of this labor are going to be felt in this village for decades to come,” Nelson said.

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