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Riverside levee project stuck in the mud

Published: Friday, Nov. 15, 2013 3:21 p.m. CDT

RIVERSIDE – A disagreement between the Riverside Board of Trustees and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has stalled the task of renovating safeguards against flooding along the Des Plaines River.

Email messages between the village and the Army Corps of Engineers reveal a lack of understanding and exchange of relevant information between the two groups who have worked together on past projects along the river. The emails were presented to the Board of Trustees at their public meeting Thursday night by Village President Benjamin Sells.

In late September, Sells sent two letters requesting information about the Corp’s plan for the river renovations including asking for “more information concerning the estimated costs of this project, both in terms of construction and longterm maintenance, and how these costs are to be born.”

In addition, Sells asked for information regarding an apparent contradiction between the corps’ current plan, which is to extend the Groveland Avenue levee, and members of the Corps’ past statements about the plan.

In a 2010 newspaper article, Jeffery Zuercher, the Corps of Engineers Chicago District project manager, was quoted saying that extending the Groveland Avenue levee would probably increase flooding upstream and create more problems than it solves. 

Zuercher responded to Sells’ requests nearly four weeks later on Oct. 23. In his reply, Zuercher did not say how much the project would cost but asked Sells to sign a letter of intent within the week, which would have the village agree to go along with the Corps’ plan and pay at least 35 percent of the total project costs.

The next day, Sells responded he would not sign the document without getting more information first.

“Before we can reasonably consider signing a letter of intent, we need a detailed response to the comments we submitted during the public comment phase,” Sells wrote in an Oct. 24 email to Zuercher. “And we need to see actual numbers attached to the potential cost of these projects to our village.”

Zuercher responded Nov. 1, saying he would be able to talk about the cost to the village, as long as the information was not made public.

Zuercher went on to accept Sells’ invitation to speak about the project at a public meeting, although he was unable to attend Thursday night’s meeting.

At the meeting, several people commented on how difficult it was to contact the Corps of Engineers about the project.

Village Trustee Joseph Ballerine said he received no response when he attempted to use the Corps’ website to ask questions about their proposal.

Resident Steven Daily said there are many people in the village who would love to work with the Corps on the plan, but their attempts to meet with Zuercher were rebuffed.

“We’d like to work with the corps, but we need them to open up to us,” Daily said.

Village Manager Peter Scalera said the village of River Forest also opted not to sign the Corps’ letter of intent.

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