“It doesn’t work anymore.” With that simple and obvious declaration about the state of Forest Park’s sewer system, Mayor Anthony Calderone Monday night began what we hope is the start of a determined and steady process to fix this core element of the village’s infrastructure.
After another major storm last week put the whammy on homeowners with flooding scenarios which have become as common as they are nasty, it is well past time that the village steps up and begins to make a plan.
Always strong on public works related logistics, the village did a good job last week in dealing with flooded bridges over the Des Plaines River and the other immediate consequences of having five-inches of rain fall in 24 hours on a town along a river bank. Plowing snow, hauling flood debris, staging events are the sweet spots for this village government.
Making a long-term plan for dealing with root causes of an aged and inadequate sewer system has so far stymied village leaders. Calderone talked Monday about having first looked at the broad sewer problem 12 years ago but being overwhelmed by the $50 million price tag.
Clearly that is a lot of money for a small town. But in a dozen years the problem hasn’t gone away, the fix hasn’t gotten cheaper, the sewers haven’t stopped aging and, obviously, our weather has gotten more extreme.
Calderone’s suggestion Monday that the village commission an engineering plan that will “take baby steps” toward a gradual fix may be the right way to go. He said at the council meeting Monday that such an incremental approach – fixing the sewers neighborhood by neighborhood – might take five to 15 years. If the village had taken that approach in 2001 the system might be overhauled, or nearly so, by now.
That however is water under the bridge, so to speak.
Calderone said Monday that the village will need to borrow substantial monies to fund such a project. Taxpayers will need to realize that such a major fix is going to cost every property owner money at some point, in some way. Higher property taxes, a special sewer assessment, whatever the mechanism, whatever the timing, this is going to cost real money.
So along with civil engineering to design the sewer fix, the village is also going to need financial engineering expertise to design the structure to pay for this major undertaking. Does the village have the capacity to borrow more money now (and at very low interest) and speed what will inevitably be a long construction process, or is a more incremental plan the right one for both financial and logistical reasons? We don’t know the answers and hope that village officials, including the commissioners, will play an active role in sorting out the options.
The mayor said Monday that in tackling this project the village government would be “doing our community a great service.” He’s never been more right.
Sewers aren’t glamorous. They cost a bloody fortune. Extreme weather will ultimately tax whatever upgrades Forest Park can afford to build. But outside of providing police and fire protection and picking up garbage, there is not a more basic public service that taxpayers can expect than a sewer system that works.