Barbara A. O'Meara: 2022 candidate for DuPage County Forest Preserve Board District 5
Office sought: DuPage Forest Preserve Commission District 5
Occupation: Senior Public Service Administrator
Previous offices held: District 5 Forest Preserve Board since 2020
Q: Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election for the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you? If so, what?
A: It is always the environment. It was the environment when I became a biology major in college and it is even more so today. The rapidly changing dynamics with the environment have been and will continue to cause catastrophic damage throughout the world.
It seems far away when we hear of the flooding in Kentucky, wildfires in the West, severe heat waves in Europe, Jackson Mississippi without drinkable water, yet everywhere is vulnerable, even DuPage County. The forest preserve has a master plan in place that will renovate, repair and rejuvenate thousands of acres within DuPage County always with an eye toward mitigating flooding to protect homes and businesses. DuPage County needs elected officials that prioritize the environment, support environmental action and call out climate deniers.
Q: If you are an incumbent, describe your two biggest contributions to the board. If you are a non-incumbent, describe two ways you would contribute to the board.
A: I brought a science based career with me when first elected and this has allowed me to be informed on all the tremendous projects we now have going on in the forest preserve.
We are rejuvenating over 1,000 acres of preserve land which had been left unmanaged, in some cases over 50 years.
In the last two years we have taken action repeatedly to move the preserve in a forward direction, the master plan is there, but it needed commitment to put it into action and we have done that.
The Willowbrook Wildlife Center has needed re-imagining and I am proud to be part of moving that forward. This board voted for a bond issuance, which didn't raise taxes, to fund a new net-zero building where over 11,000 animals were brought in this last year.
I'm also proud to be involved with the solar projects that have been put in place and those that are just beginning. I will continue to push for solar, alternative fuel vehicles, and dark sky compliant lighting whenever possible with future projects.
Q: What role should the forest preserve play in preserving historic buildings on its land?
A: Two years ago I said that the Forest Preserve board should always consider the preservation of salvageable and historically important buildings, that still holds true.
Each consideration that is brought before the board deserves to be heard and reviewed. I take the allocation of public funds very seriously and first ask how it would benefit the people of DuPage County.
The board has looked for partners when projects are brought forward, such as Fischer Farms in Bensenville which then benefits both units of government.
Preserving a building which duplicates what is already available or which just sits empty year after year with no plan for use isn't a good use of public funds. If other groups can raise the awareness and the dollars the board will always listen, if it benefits the county as a whole it's worth investigating.
Q: How would you rate the job the commission is doing to develop existing forest preserves and make them accessible to residents? How would you approach things differently?
A: I believe the forest preserve has done an excellent job. The preserves were kept open during a pandemic even as others closed down, because being able to get out in nature was one thing that could be done safely. We need to continue to make access safe, family friendly and open to all residents of the county.
In the last two years, the board has voted to expand parking at Waterfall Glen to keep families and kids from having to park on a busy road, and we've gone out to bid for flush toilets at Waterfall Glen and Wood Dale Grove which benefits all preserve patrons.
An ADA kayak launch was installed at Blackwell for any user that needs help getting into the water and we will consider more depending on usage. I'm always looking to approach things differently, I look at doing them better and expanding access every year to more residents and any idea that allows that I'll listen to.
Q: What is the most important issue facing the forest preserves in your district and how should it be addressed?
A: The issue of climate change is universal for all districts. That is being addressed in every vote that we take, reducing the dependency on fossil fuels throughout the district is always the top priority. In District 5 we need to continue to connect trails and keep our preserves open for all to enjoy and experience. Safety, and feeling safe while visiting any of the preserves is supported by having a fully staffed police unit and a knowledgeable group of Rangers. We have a wonderful grouping of preserves throughout the county and I will continue to advocate for open spaces, accessibility, and safety.
Please come out, take a hike and see what wonderful nature we have here in DuPage County.