Letters, Opinion

Letter: Flossmoor resident urges consideration of flooding relief project costs

The Village of Flossmoor will host an open house Tuesday, Jan. 23, to discuss the Flossmoor Road viaduct drainage improvement project. I encourage all Flossmoor residents to attend this village hall meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. and voice your objections to this very expensive, very disruptive waste of taxpayer money.

In 2019, a torrential rain swamped the viaduct, flooding the civic center building and damaging several others in downtown Flossmoor. (The village sometimes notes that more than 80 properties experienced flooding during that storm. My review of the addresses shows only three properties affected directly by the viaduct flooding.) 

The most widely-quoted figure for the economic losses incurred is $585,000. Most insurance excludes flood damage. Flossmoor itself did not suffer any direct economic harm from the inundation, and nobody can recall the viaduct ever flooding that badly before 2019.

Viaduct flooding can pose unwanted delays for emergency responders. According to Public Works Director John Brunke, the viaduct was impassable three times in 2003, and once each in 2006, 2019, 2020 and 2023. Only the 2019 storm caused property damage downtown, and neither Fire Chief Kopke nor Police Chief Jones can cite any instances when a delayed response has ever caused any damage to person or property. Thanks to intergovernmental agreements with our neighbors, property east of the viaduct can readily be reached by first responders from Homewood, Chicago Heights, Olympia Fields, or Glenwood.

This viaduct flooding project will entail removing the water from the viaduct by piping it a half-mile to a new “retention basin” behind Heather Hill School. Short term impacts will be to close the viaduct.  (Ironically, the viaduct will probably be impassable for a longer period during construction than during any recent flood event). 

Construction will also entail ripping up Sterling Avenue from Flossmoor Road to Maryland Avenue and Lawrence Crescent from Maryland to the new basin. Given the heavy use of these two roads thanks to Heather Hill School, this will cause a major disruption. Long-term, it means the replacement of much-loved neighborhood tennis courts with a no-trespassing lowlands and a vague, but sincere promise to replace the courts with another amenity elsewhere.

The village is proposing to spend $7.8 million to mitigate a one-time, $600,000 economic loss to a private party. Thirteen times the loss – again, by a private party. Why is the village responsible for costs to spare the building when the owner has taken no measures of his own? The viaduct has been subject to flooding since it was built around the same time the village was incorporated; why, especially in this centennial year of our founding, would we abrogate all that tradition?

Of the $7.8-million project cost, $3.2 million in grants have been secured and more were still being pursued. (The $7.8 million was the estimate three years ago; it will undoubtedly increase before bids are secured.) What is the village prepared to spend, assuming at least one of the hoped-for funding sources dries up? 

The board has not indicated any sort of cap on the village’s outlay. They point to the $10-million bond issue we passed a few years ago for flooding and road improvements, but with 42 miles of roads, at $500,000 per mile, our washboard streets could use the investment. When we passed the referendum, I don’t think anyone believed the lion’s share would be dedicated to keeping the viaduct dry. We should be resurfacing about four miles of street per year, and we’re nowhere close to that.

In addition to the economic argument against this spending spree, several other aspects raise concerns.

Communication and community involvement in the process seem to be sorely lacking. If someone wants to install an in-ground pool in Flossmoor, all neighbors within a 300-foot radius are notified and a public hearing is held. Most of my neighbors learned of these retention basin plans from a newsletter sent out by the school last spring. Most also are adamantly opposed to its placement. Neighbors should also be given an opportunity to speak – and be listened to. This proposal is orders of magnitude more important, invasive and divisive than a neighbor building a pool or basketball court, and yet most of the affected residents know of it only from the school or my own efforts. More and better outreach is required. 

The open house has finally been scheduled to “discuss the project in detail.” Stop kidding yourself if you think that means you have some input into the process. The village and its consultants will lay out the plans, but on a take-it or leave-it (although leaving it is not really an option) basis.

The mayor and many of the trustees had infrastructure as key planks in their platforms; this would be a highly visible project. But this proposal is a knee-jerk reaction to a one-time occurrence. The  expense will be exorbitant, the disruption will be enormous, the placement is far from ideal, and true give-and-take communication with the public has been abysmal.

All Flossmoor residents should attend the open house and voice your objection in the most strenuous terms to this waste of taxpayer funds. Please, let us join together and save the village from itself.

Please. Stop. Now.

John Yast

Correction: The letter originally stated the open house would be Wednesday, Jan. 23. The 23rd is Tuesday.

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