The smell of mildew fills Lynda Guillu’s basement – a dark, narrow space that houses what’s left of her most cherished belongings. When Forest Park was pounded with record rainfall last summer, her basement flooded with close to 4 feet of watery sewage, and when the village experienced storms three weeks ago, it was déjà vu.
“It was covered with black sewage water. There was feces, there was toilet paper, it was disgusting,” said Guillu of the most recent flooding in the basement of her home on the 400 block of Circle Avenue. “I’m just so frustrated.”
Her ire is directed at the village, which she feels refuses to take responsibility for a faulty sewage system that has caused an inestimable amount of damage to her property and has made her living situation increasingly unbearable.
“I’m so frustrated that I want to let go of the property,” said Guillu, during a tour of the basement of her home last week. She glumly pointed out warped wood furniture and water-stained photographs during the conversation.
“I have to make that [flood susceptibility] known” to potential buyers, she added.
Guillu, a former Chicagoan, has owned her Circle Avenue property for 5-6 years and has lived there for 2-3. She swears that the flooding in her basement – which results when water from the village’s sewage system backs up through her basement drainage pipes – has only been an issue in the last year or so.
“I know that when I moved in, it wasn’t that bad,” she said.
Although Guillu cannot pinpoint exactly what is causing the problem, she is confident she is not responsible.
“I understand that [residents] need to maintain the sewer systems [in our homes, but] what is happening is beyond our control,” Guillu said. “[The village is] not taking responsibility.”
Responsibility for exactly what is not entirely clear though. Theories as to the exact cause of and solution to the village-wide flooding problem abound, and to date no one has pinpointed the former or the latter.
One thing’s for certain: There’s a capacity problem. The village’s drainage mixes with the greater area sewage system, which causes a backup if there’s too much water.
“All the storm water and the sanitation goes into the same system,” said Village Administrator Tim Gillian. “When the sewer system was built 100 years ago, nobody anticipated homes with three bathrooms, people taking four showers a day. That’s what the issue is.”
Some have theorized that faulty work to a sewer near Harvard Street and Circle Avenue two years ago could explain why many residents on the south end of town frequently experience flooding.
“After they redo our system, our basements flood three times in 45 days?” asked Tristen Lee George. “Why all of the sudden are we getting water?”
Lee George lives on the south end of town on Circle Avenue, between Harvard Street and Fillmore Avenue. After her home was flooded during last year’s storm, she had an ejector pit installed to prevent future flooding.
Gillian said the only work done to the sewers near Harvard Street and Circle Avenue was the installation of catch basins, which, he said, temporarily store water before it flows into the sewer pipes. He discredited the theory by noting that homes on both the north and south ends of town have experienced flooding.
“The village is very sympathetic,” Gillian said. “I know nobody likes to hear this, but it’s a coincidence.”
Eric Connor – who lives on the 200 block of Rockford on the north end of town – also thinks the construction has nothing to do with the flooding.
“We have always had a backup-of-the-sewer issue. Any time there’s a certain amount of rain,” Connor said, “the pressure on the streets forces water back into the homes.”
Connor, who ran for commissioner during the last election, has long advocated the need to revamp the village’s sewage system; this was one of his major talking points during his unsuccessful run earlier this year.
Last week, he suggested two alternatives to the village’s dated and problematic sewage system: storage tanks and multiple storm-water drainage systems. In the case of the former, a number would have to be installed throughout the village; the aim being to filter and collect sediment in the tanks, so water could flow through the pipes without the potential of clogging. In the latter, every street would have a separate system for collecting storm water, so capacity would not be an issue.
According to Connor, this could potentially solve the village’s flooding problems, but at a great cost (unverified estimates ranging in the tens of millions of dollars).
“There’s millions and millions of dollars of work,” said Gillian, when asked about reconstruction. Funding for reconstruction would likely have to come in the form of grants or through the sale of bonds.
“We recognize we have work to do,” he added.
Guillu couldn’t agree more, but she believes the village needs to step up and take responsibility for the consistent flooding that she and other residents experience. After last year’s flooding, a village worker came to Guillu’s house and told her she needed to install a shut-off valve to stop the flow of water from the outside. That could cost up to $3,000 – money she doesn’t have.
When asked about the damage she suffered in last year’s flood, Guillu said, “You can’t put a price” on much of what was destroyed – family photographs and mementos. She estimated she lost nearly $8,000 worth of items, including her portfolio of photographs and several paintings (she is an artist).
To make matters even worse, Guillu said her home insurance carrier, MetLife, dropped her coverage because she is too much of a liability.
“They dropped me because I sit on a flood zone,” she said.
About a foot and a half of the drywall in Guillu’s basement has been ripped out because of the mildew. In addition, the basement stores several water-damaged pieces of furniture, and other odds and ends that have survived several floods.
When her basement flooded three weeks ago, she did not even bother contacting the village, believing they would do nothing. Instead, she used an industrial vacuum to suck up water containing human waste and toilet paper, and then disinfected the area. She used Clorox to do so, but because she is asthmatic and has extremely sensitive sinuses, this was no easy task.
“[The village] said everything was fine on their end, but obviously it isn’t.”