A resident once complained to me that if "Winnetka's dirty little secret" got out, no one would want to move here anymore.  "What's the dirty little secret?" I asked.  "We flood!" was the response.

With 100-year rain events, I guess that would be a "dirty little secret" across the entire country.  Even Chicago, with its deep tunnel system, floods with 100-year rains.  In Winnetka, approximately one-quarter of the land is located in the FEMA-floodplain and will flood, even without a 100-year event.  The 2011 historic rain saw widespread flooding, with 1100 basements (out of 4400) affected in Winnetka in a combination of storm and sanitary issues.  While we all agreed that further mitigation must take place, the question became: do we construct for the 100-year level, hence the eight-foot-diameter tunnel and associated cost of $34.4 million (all in, almost $70 million over 30 years), to try and eradicate 100-year floods?  An in-depth public conversation with the community would have been very helpful here.

On March 18th, Winnetka voters will be able to voice their opinion on a citizens' referendum.  Being advisory, the Council can choose to ignore the vote.  They have already indicated that intent, unless results support the tunnel.  Some hope you won't bother to vote or that bad weather will keep you away.  One individual is frenetically emailing, telling you to vote "Yes" (after telling you not to sign the petition for a referendum, and trying to bump a Caucus candidate off the ballot) and peppering you with snippets of the August 2, 2011 Council meeting that followed the historic rain event.   

For a #LakeMichigan freshwater perspective, check out Protect Our Water Winnetka (POWW) which is urging voters to vote "No" on the tunnel referendum in the hope that this might prompt the Council to consider more environmentally friendly and cost-conscious options for disposing of polluted stormwater.  See:  #www.powwinnetka.org.

So how did we get to a referendum?  Looking back, residents called for a 'blue ribbon' committee to research and recommend solutions.  Based upon past experience with ad hoc committees, and staff's recommendation, the 2011-2012 Council decided to tackle this issue itself, with the promise to thoroughly engage and seek feedback from the community once it decided upon a plan of action.  In that way, property owners would have the best efforts of the Council and its team of hired consultants, as well as community input, support and consensus.  Some flood-prone folks criticized the Council for not moving fast enough.  However, the Council recognized not only that community consensus was crucial to support a project of this cost and magnitude, but that the permitting process would prevent any quick action from taking place.

Due to term limits (which I support at all levels of government) the Council turned over in May, 2013.  Rather than following through on the previous Council's commitment to in-depth public engagement, the plan and financing were quickly finalized over the summer months.  Permitting by state and federal agencies for tunnel construction remains undetermined.  The water treatment structure at the Lake Michigan outfall has yet to be designed; build-out and maintenance costs are undetermined.  All property owners will be assessed beginning in July.  You can now look up your annual bill through 2016 on the Village Stormwater Calculator.  If the remaining bonds are issued, by 2018 you will need to multiply your number of ERUs by $362.00.

Winnetka's dirty little secret?  There never was one...unless you consider that there may be no Plan B for flood-prone folks if the tunnel does not get regulatory approval, and the Council may spend those stormwater funds on whatever it feels like.  See: http://winnetka.patch.com/groups/myhometown/p/and-the-oscar-goes-to

Jessica Tucker, Village President 2009 - 2013, Village Trustee 2004 - 2008.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jennifer Mcquet February 09, 2014 at 06:10 PM
Spot on, Jessica! I will vote NO on March 18th. I'm alarmed that the Village Council plans to spend a min. of $45 million without a vote of residents. This Tunnel plan does not guaranteed anyone's basement won't flood and it substantially increases utility cost and property tax burdens. PLUS, it adds pollution to our precious Lake Michigan. I agree 100% with POWW that the Tunnel will cause significant disruption to the Village and is environmentally unsound. Our "leaders" aren't listening. The people need to speak up and vote. There are better (cheaper, greener) solutions than gutting Willow for a giant-a hole in the ground.
Chris Rintz February 10, 2014 at 02:46 PM
There really is a dirty little secret….current Village Council has committed the residents of Winnetka to repay debt, in the form of a utility fee, to fund a project that may never be built. Acting under the presumption that the project will be approved by the myriad of oversight agencies that govern this sort of thing, Council continues to forge ahead. Regulatory agencies are political animals by nature, and as the litigation ensues from local and regional advocacy groups, action on approvals will be delayed until the litigators have their day. It is a shame that Council leadership has been willing to gamble at the community's expense, but I guess that's what could be expected from a group whose public engagement consisted of two meetings within a week. Maybe they should have focused on the outlet approvals before they design a system that might have nowhere to flow. If the project fails approval, we all have the privilege of paying for poor judgement, blind ambition, and a stack of drawings for a project that can't be built. Now that is a secret worth sharing!
Mark Green February 10, 2014 at 02:52 PM
Winnetka's dirty little secret is that it has the most polluted beaches in IL. The fact that this Village Council never did any due diligence solutions is disappointing. The fact that they paid a construction company to pitch their solution is disturbing. The fact that they are asking us to pay to increase our pollution levels without our agreement is disgusting. Frankly, their comparing this to eliminating the grade crossings is amusing... As that was federally funded, clearly the parallel was not how it was funded. Maybe they are suggesting that someone on the board is benefiting. As you may recall, Harold Ickes owned the swampland near the lagoons where the dirt and railroad ties were dumped to form the "lagoons". And yes, he sold it for more than he paid after the dirt filled in his swamps. When we renovated, we found some of those railroad ties. It is time for IL to change for the better. Vote "NO"!
debbie ross February 11, 2014 at 10:26 AM
Thank you Jessica! Fellow Winnetkans ,heed the warnings This Council is leading the Village down the path of environmental irresponsibility and financial ruin. If they really care about storm water they would have enacted green infrastructure methods immediately and slowed down development. debbie Ross
NELLY February 12, 2014 at 10:28 PM
As to whether anyone on the council is benefiting, I believe that a couple of the trustees live in flood-prone areas. Their decision on how to fund this project results in causing property owners, who derive no benefit from the tunnel, to subsidize their problem. These are some of the same people who found it offensive for property owners to subsidize landmark status of homes to the tune of $3-$4 per year. Yet a $362-per-ERU-per-year subsidy for their direct benefit is A-OK. I'm not a big landmark proponent, but I do believe in fairness. Shouldn't the people who directly benefit from this project have a LITTLE more skin in the game? Why no special service area?
Winnetka February 13, 2014 at 01:32 AM
WARNING! Circle Jerk Alert....
Jennifer Mcquet February 19, 2014 at 09:15 PM
"Winnetka" - Please don't continue to use this Patch user name. You DO NOT represent the entire Village. It would be bold and strong if you would identify yourself by name....and why in the world would anyone be up and angry enough to post a reference to "circle jerk?" on 2/13/14 @ 1:34 AM (????).


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