Contention over flood-fighting methods in communities near the Des Plaines River appears to be continuing after Des Plaines Mayor Matt Bogusz recently asked his counterparts in Mount Prospect and Prospect Heights to sign an agreement laying out how future deluges should be battled.
The mayor of Mount Prospect, Arlene Juracek, said Friday that she had no intention of signing an intergovernmental agreement that would require her town to revert the past practice of erecting a temporary flood barrier down the center of River Road – a practice she called "infeasible."
"We simply can't agree to flood-fight the way we used to," Juracek said.
Levee 37 along the Des Plaines River has evolved into a contentious issue among the three riverfront communities. In the days immediately after severe flooding hit the area in late April, Des Plaines officials accused their upstream neighbors of violating an Illinois Department of Natural Resources permit when they filled a required 600-foot gap in the levee with Jersey, or concrete, barriers as the river rose to record levels.
Plugging that gap diverted more floodwater downstream, Des Plaines officials argued, and made flood damage in the city worse.
Levee 37 was completed last year, and its gap is intended to prevent additional increases in water levels downstream until a new reservoir is completed in Wheeling. That reservoir is expected to be finished by 2014, according to officials in Mount Prospect and Des Plaines.
After requesting more information, the IDNR determined last month that the actions of Mount Prospect and Prospect Heights did not constitute a "complete closure of the height of the gap," and did not violate a state permit or significantly contribute to flooding downstream in Des Plaines.
"Our moral compass is guided by the fact that we fought to keep Mount Prospect residents dry and knew we were doing no additional impact to Des Plaines," Juracek said.
But Bogusz said he still believes the actions of those two communities violated the permit and that all parties had agreed to fight flooding near the levee along the center of River Road.
"Simply put, if a complete levee was not going to displace water, why was a gap required and why was compensatory storage being built?" Bogusz questioned.
When Juracek, Prospect Heights Mayor Nicholas Helmer and Wheeling Village President Dean Argiris met with Bogusz June 3 in his office, he presented Juracek and Helmer with an intergovernmental agreement requiring a commitment from them to fight future floods along the center of River Road.
Bogusz said he asked the two leaders to sign the agreement by June 19, so they would have time to discuss the issue with their respective trustees and aldermen.
"My focus right now is what happens when it rains tomorrow," Bogusz said. "My primary concern is if it floods tomorrow, we don't have the same action by Mount Prospect and Prospect Heights. A voluntary agreement is definitely the quickest, cleanest way to get the problem resolved."
Helmer could not be reached for comment on this story. But Juracek said that a flood barrier along the center of River Road would have overwhelmed sewer systems and a pump station. Despite that, she said village engineers have met with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to explore whether other flood-fighting options near the levee are available until the Wheeling reservoir is completed.
"If another major storm comes through, we don't need a legal battle or some sort of protest again saying we shouldn't be doing what we're doing," she said. "People need to be comfortable with what we're doing; otherwise we end up spinning a lot of people's wheels and spending a lot of people's time and money addressing a problem that doesn't exist."
Meanwhile, Bogusz said he would discuss potential next steps with Des Plaines aldermen if the intergovernmental agreement is not signed. He declined to say what those next steps could be.
"These are our neighbors," he said. "We want to be good neighbors. We just want to be treated with the same respect."