First reported 7/27/2010 12:29 p.m.

A standing-room-only crowd of about 150 emotional residents filled council chambers Monday night, nearly all flood victims seeking explanations and help after waking up Saturday morning to water, sewage or both in their basements.

By Saturday afternoon, the Village of Forest Park had, according to Village Administrator Tim Gillian, filed paperwork for declaration as a disaster area. The village is among 11 suburbs and one township to have filed such a notification with Cook County. When the county meets a dollar threshold – $17 million – it can apply to the state, which can then apply to the federal government for disaster relief.

The usual order of the council meeting was suspended Monday night as experts in engineering and emergency management were invited to address residents and answer what Mayor Anthony Calderone said were recurring questions: Why are we dealing with repeat flooding? When is FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) going to help us?

What the village engineer said

The village’s engineer, Chris Burke of Christopher B. Burke Engineering in Rosemont, gave a presentation on the water management system that Forest Park relies on, its links to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and to the Deep Tunnel project. Burke discussed the standard sewage arrangements of many Forest Park homes and showed how they can be inadequate to withstand a sudden rush of rainwater. After the presentation, residents lined up at the podium with questions.

According to Burke, the western suburbs got 6.5 to 7.9 inches of rain from 11 p.m. Friday until 7 a.m. Saturday – a time window he called brief for that amount of rainfall. Burke said that the Deep Tunnel project or TARP – Tunnel And Reservoir Plan – combined sewer overflow went into the Des Plaines River. But TARP itself, Burke said, is only a tunnel, 30 feet in diameter, not a reservoir. That tunnel was already filled by the early morning hours on Saturday. The Deep Tunnel project is due to be finished in 2019.

Most homes with basement seepage, Burke said, got it because they had poor or no flood-proofing, because their downspouts or sumps discharged too close to the foundation, because of no or too small a sump pump, because of lots graded lower than surrounding area, or because of failed drain tile, meaning there was a break or a sediment clog.

What the FEMA expert said

Next to speak was David R. Ramos, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management in Cook County, warned that “you’re not going to see FEMA knocking on your door next week – it’s a lengthy process.” Ramos said the county has only recently received federal grant money for flood victims of the storms in the fall of 2008. According to Ramos, only when the county and state referrals of disaster areas get to Washington and President Obama declares Illinois a disaster area, will FEMA start to process damage claims in the region. Until then, Forest Parkers should keep track of expenses for flood-damage losses and keep photos (from both storms) of the damage.

Calderone passed out a two-sided damage questionnaire to everyone at the meeting. The form, which can be filed as part of the community claims for damages, is available now on the Review’s site, later this week on the village’s site, and for pickup at village hall. It’s due back to village hall by Aug. 16.

His goal, he said, is to put the questionnaire, which asks specifics about damage incurred during the flood, in the hands of every Forest Park resident. He estimated that 70 to 80 percent of Forest Parkers experienced or are experiencing flooding.

A caution about FEMA

Calderone emphasized, however, that FEMA reimbursement – if Forest Park does become eligible – is only for uninsured losses, specific to structural damage, and that basements are not considered living areas by FEMA.

“If you have insurance, FEMA’s not going to give you a bonus check,” Calderone told the crowd. He then opened the floor to residents, about 30 of whom stood up to speak about their flood losses. Many more buttonholed commissioners in hallways.

‘Who are we supposed to go to?’

Heather Steger, of the 1100 block of Elgin, told officials the parking ban suspension needs to be longer – maybe until winter. For now, the overnight parking ban on village streets is being lifted until Saturday so residents can use their garages for storage as they keep cleaning.

“People are going to be needing until more than just Saturday to park on the street,” she said, while garages are filled with items moved out of basements, and suggested the village issue a special permit for vehicles whose owners have been flood-forced to park outside their garages.

Odessa Wynn, 64, of the 300 block of Des Plaines, worried about mold, sewage and the safety of children in her apartment building. Wynn said she was pleased with the quick response of her building’s management, though she said, “We definitely better not go downstairs.”

Two residents told the gathering that village workers were seen pumping water out of their friends’ homes. Calderone said there was only one such incident. He said a village worker was found to have used a privately owned pipe to help out a friend, but that he’d brought it to the friend using a village vehicle. The incident, Calderone said, was reported to Public Works and the culprit “got spanked for it.”

“It’s enormous,” said Jackie Goodman, who lives on the 800 block of Circle with her husband the three young children. “Two times we’ve been flooded in four weeks. The drywall, the floor, the tiles. Everything’s popping out left and right. And the mold is already starting. The smell on Day 3 is atrocious. Who are we supposed to go to?

“There are a lot of people in Forest Park who are in a lot of trouble,” Goodman said.

Commissioner Mark Hosty answered a number of speakers concerned about recent street repairs and resurfacing on Harvard and Jackson being complications. Hosty assured the crowd that he would see to it that the sewer lines in the repaired areas were videoed to doublecheck for blockages. He said the sewers were last “hydrovac-ed” two years ago.

Relief grants from Proviso Township are “unlikely,” he said.

Hosty shared his own experiences of repairing leaks in his basement, which he said flooded to 10 inches over the weekend. “Water will find a way. You can fix one problem and it chases the water into another area. Our basements become the reservoir,” he said.

Public comments lasted for more than two hours. Calderone encouraged elderly residents and those having trouble cleaning out heavy items from basements to call village all.

Calderone listed a number of theories, offered him by residents as he toured the village’s alleys this weekend, about what caused the flooding. He called himself “an alley rat,” saying he got to every alley in Forest Park checking the damage. “A lady chased me down in my car,” he said, telling him, “you guys needed to open the valve to let the water out.”

Calderone said he replied emphatically that “there are no valves. None. None whatsoever. There are pipes. And when the pipes get filled up, homes become temporary retention ponds. There is no simple solution. I wish there was.”

Jean Lotus contributed to this report.

Village engineer Chris Burke discussed how standard sewage arrangements for many homes can be inadequate to withstand a sudden rush of rainwater.
Christopher B. Burke Engineering

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Low-interest state loans

On Monday, Gov. Pat Quinn declared Cook, DuPage and 10 other counties disaster areas. That declaration allows the state to provide such resources as trucks, pumps, sandbags and work crews to the counties listed. It also opens the door for the state treasurer’s office to find banks that are willing to make low-interest loans to residents and business owners who are facing losses because of flooding.

To apply to Opportunity Illinois: Disaster Recover Loan Program, call 866-523-0641 or e-mail

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