The Winnetka Village Council on Tuesday unanimously approved launching a $125,000 water quality sampling and analysis project that officials said is likely needed to obtain a permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency prior to constructing the village's proposed $34 million Willow Road stormwater tunnel.
The project would include testing samples of stormwater run-off to ensure the village is meeting required water quality management objectives, officials said.
In addition, trustees also voted unanimously Tuesday night to authorize the village's consultant on its proposed $41 million stormwater management project to move ahead with preliminary engineering and design plans for the future permitting process, as well as continuing to manage the project and provide community outreach.
"All the permitting agencies were aware of the project before we walked in the door, and I think we will get cooperation from them," said Joe Johnson, vice president of MWH, the engineering consultant hired by the village.
Officials said a supplemental program of water quality sampling will likely be required by the IEPA, but the roughly $125,000 cost was not included in the original proposal because the scope was not clear at the time.
While trustees were resoundingly positive and enthusiastic about the water quality sampling project and preliminary engineering for the tunnel project was moving ahead after years of discussion, several residents who attended this week's village council meeting expressed concerns about it having a negative environmental impact on Lake Michigan.
Resident Anne Wilder urged officials to slow down and consider green infrastructure solutions, for example, the use of wetlands, to address the village's flooding before they take further steps towards building the tunnel.
"In the past, you've been dismissive of the idea and said there's not enough land," Wilder said. "But there are non-profit organizations like Chicago Wilderness that are offering to help you…this is a wonderful opportunity and could be a win-win solution."
"I'm not a 'high and dry' resident, and my basement flooded during the last two rain storms," added resident Debbie Ross, who also noted that a majority of residents said they opposed the tunnel project in a non-binding, advisory referendum in March.
"I still don't see any plan of how to deal with the chemicals in the storm water," Ross added. "If this amount of stormwater goes into the lake, the village will have a dead lake, and one our children can't swim in."
Still, trustees said the water quality sampling program will ensure that the village is meeting required IEPA regulations, and said officials can no longer put off fixing the community's chronic flooding problems.
"Imagine a Winnetka where you can be on a camping trip in the Rocky Mountains, and you're not having to call your neighbors back home when it rains to see if your basement is flooding," said Trustee Stuart McCrary, who described himself as, "a tree-hugger."
"I'm really excited about the green initiatives that are part of this project and I'm excited that it will really make a difference," McCrary said.
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