Wilmette Moving Forward on Expanded Option 3: Neighborhood Storage

In April 2018, the Wilmette Village Board selected Option 3: Neighborhood Storage to provide westside Wilmette with relief from flooding.

Just about a year later, in February 2019, the board held yet another stormwater meeting to debate details about implementing Option 3. The meeting ended with a tentatively hopeful outcome.

The Positive News

Village Trustees agreed with an engineering assessment that, instead of using Centennial Park for the main detention tank, a better option would be Community Playfields (behind Highcrest Middle School). The playfields offer more area for a potentially shallower but higher capacity detention tank. This would reduce construction costs, while providing more properties with storm relief.

Second, the trustees gave their approval (sort of) for expanding the overall benefit of Option 3, using larger tanks and additional storm sewer pipe capacity.

Here is an overview of the Optimized Option 3.

Here are additional details on the Optimized Option 3 plan.

Construction on the optimized stormwater projects would start in the fall with a few storm sewers, followed by the tank at Community Playfields in 2020. Phase 2 would add storage at Hibbard Park, and Phase 3 would be at Thornwood Park.

Expanded Capacity

The expanded tanks for Option 3 would handle up to a 10-year storm for 98% of vulnerable westside properties.

This is good news because, originally, Option 3 was expected to provide 10-year storm relief for just 71% of vulnerable westside properties.

As Trustee Joel Kurzman pointed out, construction of the expanded detention system would mean the entire village (not just eastside) would have sewer infrastructure meeting the minimum standard of 10-year-storm protection.

The Negative Side

Unfortunately, what the board approved was not the full benefits of the Option 1: Relief Sewer for the lower price of Option 3: Neighborhood Storage. Instead, we’re getting a lesser (but possibly more feasible) project at a lower price.

In addition, the meeting did not end on a totally positive note because of continued pushback from Trustees Daniel E. Sullivan Jr. and Kathy Dodd.

Dodd and Sullivan hammered on the idea that the Village of Wilmette is on the brink of financial disaster, due to an auto dealer and Carson’s closing, with consequent sales tax loss.

Therefore, they made sure that the Village Board did NOT authorize the funding for the expanded pipes, which are required to carry stormwater to the expanded tanks.

Instead, the Village Board authorized only construction of expanded tanks.

Without the expanded pipes, almost a quarter of vulnerable westside properties would still be in jeopardy during 10-year storms. And the expanded tanks would presumably sit in the ground, partially unused, until (or if) the board felt like voting for the sewer pipes needed for the upgraded system.

Financial Fallacies

It’s hard to follow Dodd and Sullivan’s reasoning.

To begin with, the Village, wisely, uses only sewer fees (NOT property taxes or sales taxes) to fund sewer infrastructure.

In addition, the expanded version of the detention tank system would cost only an additional $35-$70 yearly in household sewer fees, yet it would add coverage for almost a quarter of vulnerable properties.

Therefore, it’s extremely difficult to see how a loss of property tax revenue would affect the stormwater project budget. And deciding to drop this cost-efficient upgrade would, frankly, seem deliberately malicious.

How do we view infrastructure?

My final thoughts after the meeting:

In my opinion…
Functioning infrastructure is not something that the wealthier parts of town can count on, while the rest of us must beg continuously for services (even though we all pay the same water/sewer fees).

In my opinion…
Functioning infrastructure is not a boom-time reward, but, instead, something that the Village Board and Staff must continuously monitor, in order to analyze issues and plan for long-term maintenance and upgrades.

In my opinion…
The engineering consultants did an excellent job designing some manageable, high-impact westside stormwater projects. Now the Village Board and Park Board need to follow through on the plan.

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