Winnetka negotiators have reached a tentative agreement with Cook County Forest Preserve staff to allow Winnetka to utilize about 19 acres of its land between Willow Rd. & Winnetka Ave. west of Hibbard Rd. to create a stormwater detention area capable of absorbing about 109 acre feet of water. The two parties have written up a Memorandum of Understanding summarizing the points of agreement. At their meeting Tuesday night (7pm, 8/1 @ Village Hall), The Village Council hopes to authorize the Village Manager to execute the MOU, and authorize the Village Engineer to move forward with preliminary engineering work related to the project.
I would encourage you to read the MOU and its exhibits, and share your thoughts either at the August 1st meeting, or via email to the council. The MOU doesn’t directly address Crow Island Woods, but is very relevant to the process and has important implications for those of us who want to reduce flooding in Winnetka and have worked hard to keep the Woods from being turned into an above-ground stormwater detention facility.
The Forest Preserve storage offers a place to take a lot of the water which is currently flooding west and southwest Winnetka. The proposed Forest Preserve detention area in the MOU is superior in a number of ways to the original proposals by Strand. The detention area footprint and number of trees to be cut down have both been dramatically reduced, which is nice for those of us who live nearby and who appreciate forests or the preservation of natural areas. Also, it saves about $10 million in licensing and tree-removal fees (not identified in Strand’s original proposal) which Winnetka would otherwise have had to pay.
The MOU specifies that Winnetka must help improve the quality of water entering the Chicago River and provide capacity to hold back and settle out at least 1/2” of “first flush” rainfall. Otherwise, the details of the where, how, how much and when of storage and conveyance are not specified in the Memorandum of Understanding, with the Forest Preserve intentionally giving Winnetka flexibility to figure out how to meet its requirements via underground storage, green infrastructure, updated village codes, and so forth. Exhibit A now more broadly refers to “South Willow Road Storage & Conveyance” and uses a broad green arrow rather than specific conveyance routing.
Individual council members claim there is now a consensus around underground (rather than the previously proposed above-ground) storage under New Trier and Winnetka Park District property just north of Willow and under the grassy/asphalt/parking areas of Crow Island Park and/or school, but little work has been done on the details yet. Chris Rintz has told us that the first step post-MOU is to get folks in south Winnetka together to figure out how to route & store the water (based on MOU requirements) in a way that we can all agree on, and work with the engineers to sketch out and understand what is possible. If you have opinions about Crow Island storage, or whether stormwater is routed via private roads or splits towards Winnetka Ave. & Willow Rd., you’ll definitely want to be a part of that discussion!
This agreement with the Forest Preserve seems like a good outcome for those whose homes and neighborhoods currently flood. I believe it is also mostly a good thing for Crow Island Woods. The MOU substantially reduces the risk of the worst outcomes for Crow Island Woods (for instance, massively above-ground storage), including outcomes Strand and the Village have promoted for the past two years and we have vigorously opposed (an above-ground stormwater retention facility in the middle of the woods near Crow Island School). There is some chance that underground storage near the woods will reduce flooding in the woods, and allow trees young and old to better thrive there. On the other hand, there is also still a chance that slightly more storage may be required than easily fits, so there may be a temptation to “nibble around the edges” (Village President Rintz’s words) of the woods. Since there is more “agreeing” to do in south Winnetka than elsewhere, we’ll probably be the last piece of the puzzle to come together, so there’s some risk we may be left “holding the bag” for whatever didn’t get done elsewhere, so it’s crucial that we stay involved.
Whatever your opinion, village governance thrives on communication. If you can come to the meeting on Tuesday night, I encourage you to do so. If not, I recommend you share your thoughts beforehand with the council via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.