Water district election affects local projects
If they move on to election in November, the three people elected out of nine Democrats running in the Feb. 2 primary for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District will make decisions on projects that hit close to home for suburbanites affected by flooding.
One of those issues is the construction of Levee 37 along the west bank of the Des Plaines River in Mount Prospect and Wheeling.
The $23 million concrete flood wall will provide protection for about 600 homes and businesses. But the village of Des Plaines has raised concerns about threats to its community from a 600-foot gap in the levee. The gap is supposed to be left open until a stormwater reservoir is built in Wheeling's Heritage Park. The reservoir will temporarily hold water upstream during flooding.
Wheeling, the Wheeling Park District and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District have yet to reach an agreement on the reservoir although officials said it's expected soon. Des Plaines leaders have said they fear if flooding occurs in the meantime and the gap is sandbagged, it will send stormwater into their village.
The candidates for MWRD include incumbents Barbara McGowan and Mariyana Spyropoulos and contenders Michael Alvarez, Stella Black, Todd Connor, Wallace Davis III, Maureen Kelly, Kathleen Mary O'Reilley and Kari Steele.
The Daily Herald asked the candidates about funding for Levee 37 and other flood-control projects. Here's a sampling of their answers.
• Steele, a chemist from Chicago, stated she was not familiar with every detail of pending projects but would immerse herself in issues when elected.
• Spyropoulos is a Chicago attorney. Levee 37 is an important project, she said. Funding priorities should be made based on the number of people affected, and "multiple-source funding and projects that avoid flood-damage costs should be encouraged for projects," she noted.
• O'Reilley is an administrative assistant from River Forest. "Projects such as this are eligible for federal funding through the Army Corps of Engineers budget," she said. "This must be aggressively pursued by the MWRD board and our congressional delegation."
• McGowan is a former MWRD employee from Chicago. Her priorities are completing Phase II of the Tunnel and Reservoir Project, which includes building the Thornton and McCook reservoirs and all the goals and objectives of the Cook County Stormwater Management Plan.
• Kelly, of Chicago, is executive director of community and government relations at St. Xavier University. "Solutions to funding in this area must be addressed and we must find new and creative ways to fund these critical projects," she said. The district needs to be more assertive in its approach to obtaining state and federal funding, she noted.
• Davis is general superintendent at Chicago's Department of Water Management. He said the district could raise funds by selling unwanted land to entities that need it like the forest district. "MWRD is one of the largest landowners in Cook County," Davis commented.
• Connor is a Chicago management consultant. The district should aggressively pursue federal funding for projects such as Levee 37, he said. His funding priorities are projects like Levee 37 that address immediate flood-control needs followed by clean-water initiatives.
• Black is a Chicago property tax consultant. The district needs better financial oversight, she said, and should ensure competitive bidding is the rule. "Levee 37 has been 20 years in the making and that is unfair to residents that suffer from flooding partly due to local government's disagreements," she said.
• Alvarez is a Chicago public affairs consultant. Projects like Levee 37 are a top priority, he said. "It would better serve our region to have residents spending resources on water conservation tools such as rain barrels than having protect themselves with sandbags."
A 10th candidate, Mary Ann Paolantonio Salemi, was removed from the ballot.