A rendering included in the May 15 Flossmoor board packet shows a proposed stormwater detention basin adjacent to Heather Hill School. (Provided image)
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Heather Hill detention basin project moves forward after brief pause to seek consensus

The plan to create a storm water detention basin near Heather Hill School will move forward after receiving more support from the Flossmoor Board of Trustees at the Monday, May 6, meeting than it had previously.

A vote to purchase land for a storm water detention basin near Heather Hill School passed by a 4 to 3 vote on April 15, with Mayor Michelle Nelson casting the tie-breaking vote in favor. With the board split, she paused the process until trustees could discuss alternatives at the May 6 meeting. The prevailing view was to proceed with the project.

“As a civil engineer, I understand that when presented with a problem such as flooding that affects an entire community, it is imperative that we find a viable solution,” she said. “As mayor, I want that solution to be something that majority, if not all, of elected officials and decision makers can confidently stand for.”

After an extended public comment period, trustees were presented with four options: 1) continue with the project as planned and approved, 2) consider alternatives at Heather Hill School that would partially or completely store water under ground, 3) consider alternatives for underground storage under the south commuter parking lot downtown or under nearby Flossmoor Park or 4) abandon the project and use its funds for other village projects.

Public Works Director John Brunke offered a description of each option along with costs, pros and cons.

A rendering included in the May 15 Flossmoor board packet shows a proposed stormwater detention basin adjacent to Heather Hill School. (Provided image)
A rendering included in the May 15 Flossmoor board packet shows a proposed
stormwater detention basin adjacent to Heather Hill School. (Provided image)

Heather Hill basin. The $7.8 million project is fully funded with a combination of nearly $4 million in grants and the balance from the 2020 bond approved by voters for street repair and flooding mitigation. The basin will help control storm water and will reduce but not eliminate flooding for businesses near the viaduct downtown and for residents on or near Berry Lane. It will offer 10-year storm protection for both areas. A number of residents in the Heather Hill neighborhood have opposed this option because of the basin’s proximity to Heather Hill School.

Heather Hill underground storage. Putting the temporary water storage underground would provide the same flooding protection for downtown and Berry Lane and would address residents’ concerns about the open basin. However, this option would cost about $12.2 million. The village would have to seek the additional $4.4 million through grants or possibly another bond issue, plus reworking intergovernmental and grant agreements. It would mean delaying the project another year.

Downtown underground storage. Water could be stored temporarily under the south commuter lot or Flossmoor Park. Either option would provide 10-year storm protection for the downtown area but would not improve drainage in the Berry Lane area. The cost would be about $12 million. Each option would require a pumping station and generator since both locations are at a higher elevation than the street level under the viaduct. These options would increase annual expenses for the maintenance of the pump and generator.

Abandon the project. If the viaduct/Berry Lane project was abandoned, the village could try to redirect funding to other flood mitigation projects, but downtown businesses and Berry Lane area residents would remain vulnerable to flooding. 

Another option, the north conveyance, was not part of the presentation but was part of the discussion. That option was the village’s preferred solution early in the process because it would provide 100-year storm protection, virtually eliminating flooding downtown. However, it would require using land that is part of the Flossmoor Golf Club to store water and deliver it to Butterfield Creek at an appropriate rate. Nelson reported that after a number of appeals from the village, the owner has declined to participate in the project. Village Attorney Kathleen Orr noted that most of the property is not within village borders, so that limits the village’s options.

Trustees did not take a formal vote — the project and the land purchase already were approved — but each trustee was given two opportunities, one to ask questions and one to state their position. With one dissention and one suggestion, the prevailing view of the board was to proceed with the project as planned. Trustee Rosalind Mustafa was not present.

Trustee Joni Bradley-Scott said she agreed with residents who advocated for the Heather Hill underground storage alternative. She noted that when the bond was passed, the destination for the excess storm water had not been determined, and many residents in the area were not aware that a detention basin would be created near the school.

She suggested taking the time to find out what the whole community prefers now that the options are clearer.

Trustee Gary Daggett said he supported moving forward with the Heather Hill basin plan, but in consideration for residents’ concerns about safety, he suggested increasing the height of the fence that will separate the basin from the Heather Hill School playground. The fence in the current plan will be six feet high.

Staff will explore the possibility of increasing the size of the fence. 

Of 15 residents who spoke at the meeting, six expressed support for developing the detention basin near Heather Hill School. Of the other nine speakers, six said they support finding a way to implement the underground storage option at Heather Hill, one suggested more effort be made to pursue the north conveyance option, one urged further exploration of options and one said to make the safety of children as the top priority in finding a solution.

Stephen and Donna Ramsey both advocated for the underground basin at Heather Hill. 

“No one wants to see our residents and neighbors flooded out. No one wants to see children placed at risk,” Stephen Ramsey said. “There’s a win-win solution out here. If we have options, let’s pursue those. It’s time for Flossmoor to start working together.”

Among the residents urging the board to continue with the Heather Hill basin were several who said they had dealt with flooding and damage to their property for years and believe this project is the best opportunity to get some relief.

Village Manager Bridget Wachtel reminded the board that the original plan for the $10 million bond was to focus on improving streets. After a severe storm in 2019, residents flocked to board meetings imploring the village to do something about flooding. The village responded by including flood mitigation as part of the plan for spending bond money.

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