Burke’s $106 Million Flood Control Plan Means Time For City Council To Make Decisions


We’ve always liked the motto of the Public Television show “This Old House”: “Measure twice, cut once.”

That tends to be good advice in most situations, and especially good advice when it comes to the operation of government: The expenditures of substantial sums of taxpayer money and/or the undertaking of substantial amounts of public debt for some project or program.

Fortunately for Park Ridge taxpayers, the Park Ridge City Council, so far, has taken that approach when it comes to the City’s adoption of proposals for addressing the City’s flooding problems. Because of the grand scope of the flooding problems and, therefore, the cost of the projects that will be needed to solve those problems, measuring twice – or even three and four times – is the prudent thing to do.

At the Council’s September 11, 2017 Public Works Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting, Christopher B. Burke Engineering presented its most comprehensive flooding remediation plan to date, intended to address flooding in 13 areas of Park Ridge. The price tag: $106 million for what Burke is claiming will provide 100-year protection, even in those semi-disaster areas like Mayfield Estates and the basin just west of the Park Ridge Country Club between Oakton on the north and the METRA tracks on the south.

Just so there’s no misunderstanding: That $106 million doesn’t include the additional $10-20 million of potential debt service costs for the bonds that likely will be needed to fund this mega-project, depending on the amount and the duration of those bonds.

Flood remediation has been the 500 lb. gorilla, and a political football, in Park Ridge for decades. For most of the 1990s and ear ly-2000s our City politicians and bureaucrats not only did nothing to remediate it but, in many instances, they took a variety of actions that actually exacerbated the problems – including diverting the funds budgeted annually for relief sewers (to hold stormwater) to other more popular pursuits and pet projects.

Only after the election of mayor Dave Schmidt in April 2009 did the City begin to get serious about flooding, forming the Flood Control Task Force chaired by former public works director Joe Saccamano and comprised of residents like Gail Fabisch and Bob Mack, both of whom are career professionals in dealing with water management and flooding.

In connection with the task force’s efforts the City made Burke Engineering its flooding consultant of choice. Based on studies and recommendations by Burke, the City began some of the more inexpensive remediation projects – the low-hanging fruit – while working toward a more comprehensive and more expensive global plan, which is what Burke appears to have come back with last month.

Burke’s power-point presentation is posted on the City’s website and can be found here. And it prescribes the 100-year protection that should be the goal of any such project.

Such a comprehensive plan will not be able to be accomplished in a year or even two. It also cannot be accomplished by the City unilaterally because it will require the cooperation of the Park Ridge Park District for the detention area recommended for Northwest Park, and of the Park Ridge Country Club for the construction of the underground vault on the east side of Greenwood that will run pretty much the full length of the 3d hole, and that appears crucial to flood control in that area.

The cost of these projects will impose a substantial burden on the City’s taxpayers for years to come, no matter how successful the City’s storm water utility proves to be.

That’s why we think that NOW is the time for the Council to start taking the action necessary to determining whether there is sufficient taxpayer support to move forward with the projects contained in the Burke plan. And that should involve a referendum – the 10-letter word that terrifies and infuriates those public officials, elected and appointed, who distrust the taxpayers/voters, and/or who think those taxpayers/voters are incompetent to express their opinions about projects such as this through the ballot box.

At least two, if not three or four, current aldermen are known to have opined that elected public officials – such as themselves, of course – are elected to make these kinds of decisions, without needing no stinking referendums. And should they want any taxpayer advice, they can easily get it by talking to their constituents , a la former 3d-Ward alderman Don Bach, who once voted to give Napleton Cadillac up to $2.4 million of taxpayer money, even though he was against the idea, because he had talked to “about 30 people” in his ward who thought it was a good idea.

But make no mistake about it: NO current mayor or alderman has EVER run for the offices they currently hold on the promise that they would support the taxing, borrowing and/or spending more than $100 million on flood remediation/prevention. That means none of their voters elected them to do that.

We’ve got two elections coming up in 2018 that would be suitable for such a referendum: The primaries in March 2018 and, even better, the general election in November 2018. Both the primary and the general election regularly produce a significantly larger voter turnout than our odd-year local elections and, therefore, would be the better vehicle for measuring public support for any $100 million-plus expenditure and/or indebtedness.

Because referendum questions have to be submitted months ahead of the actual elections, however, the deadline for the Council to put a flood remediation question on the March 20, 2018 primary ballot is January 1, 2018. That might be cutting it too close, thereby making the August 20, 2018 deadline for putting one or more referendum questions on the November ballot more reasonable.

We would hope Mayor Maloney and a majority of the current Council will voice their support for a referendum on such an important issue, and do so sooner rather than later.

Unless, of course, they want to play Springfield-style politics and kick the flood control can far enough down the road that it rolls past the April 2019 City elections – when the terms of Aldermen Moran (1st), Wilkening (3d), Melidosian (5th) and Joyce (7th) will be expiring. That way, should they choose to run, neither they nor their challengers would have to handle any potentially difficult questions that might arise from the results – up or down – of a November 2018 referendum.

Hope springs eternal, however, so we’re willing to make a modest wager that the Council will move forward on the Burke plan so that one or more appropriate referendum questions will find their way to the November 2018 ballot.

But if they don’t, every homeowner in Park Ridge who has flooding problems should be demanding to know why not.

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