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$3.21M stormwater project faces challengers

ELMHURST – City officials and Christopher B. Burke Engineering met with Cayuga Avenue residents Monday to discuss the proposed stormwater mitigation project at York Commons, but residents want another meeting.

"It is not, not controversial," Cayuga resident Eileen Kennedy said near the end of the hour-long meeting as she explained she still had many unanswered questions.

The meeting came two weeks after the City Council prioritized four projects, including York Commons, and directed the city to formally ask the park district and School District 205 to commit to the proposed projects.

Christopher Burke, president of the engineering firm that produced the conceptual designs for overland stormwater storage within the city, pointed out three additions to the York Commons plan that emerged from resident concerns.

A bypass system would direct stormwater around the detention ponds to the storm sewer when possible to keep the ponds from collecting water in light rain events. When the storm sewer reaches capacity during severe rain events, then stormwater would begin to fill the two detention ponds in the park.

Additional underground pipes will take stormwater from Cayuga Avenue to the proposed east detention pond, which already was designated for Crescent Avenue stormwater.

Residents have expressed concerns that, in an extreme rain event, the detention ponds may overflow, bringing water into their backyards. In response, Burke explained the firm plans to create an overland flow route. This would bring any water that overflowed the detention pond, overland, west toward York Street. Burke said a small berm would keep the water from leaving the flow route and moving south toward homes.

Some residents asked if the route could be moved farther away.

"That's a river in the back of our houses instead of the front of our houses," Eileen Kennedy said.

Others worried about safety since many of the homes that back up to the park on Cayuga have children. Jim Kennedy, Sixth Ward alderman and chairman of the public works and buildings committee, said the park would not be fenced in, but the city has discussed adding a security person to monitor each of the detention site when in use.

Burke also pointed out that families on streets that flood already have to make sure their kids are safe from water surrounding their homes.

"What we're trying to do is corral this water, put it in a location rather than [where it's] currently ponding pretty deep in front of homes," Burke said.

Residents continued to worry that detaining stormwater behind their homes would put them in jeopardy.

"It's only bringing my house and our families in harm's way," Cayuga Avenue resident Kevin Graf said.

Residents also asked what other options had been explored before deciding on the gravity-fed detention ponds. Burke said that other ideas had included permeable pavers and pump-evacuated storage.

He said the pavers would need to be strategically located in order to address flood-prone areas, but also would need to cover several miles in order to store the necessary amount of stormwater. Pump-evacuated storage would cost several times what the gravity-fed options do.

"It doesn't pass the common sense test," said Cayuga resident Elliott Black, who later that night told the City Council he would favor a more expensive plan if it helped more people in the long term.

Jim Kennedy agreed to meet with residents again, but did not set a date.

During the City Council meeting that followed Monday night, Mayor Steve Morley told the council he and City Manager Jim Grabowski sent letters electronically to both the park and education boards Aug. 15, with printed versions following in the mail.

"Before we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, we'd like to know that we have their consent to work with them on the land it involves," Morley said.

Morley said the letters request the board respond by the end of September.

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By the numbers

51: Estimated homes that would be protected by the proposed stormwater mitigation project at York Commons

$3.21M: Estimated total cost for the project

$63,000: Estimated cost per home

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