“This isn’t how I wanted to spend my birthday weekend,” said Shirley Roberts after surveying the sewage that backed up into her basement, Friday morning.
Neighbors on the 800 block of Hannah Avenue greeted each other soggily after a slow moving thunderstorm dumped just over 4 inches of rain within 24 hours on Forest Park. Many had early-morning discoveries they had been dreading all summer: More flooding and sewer backups in basements.
“It just keeps happening. I go down there with bleach water and Pine Sol,” said Roberts, who lives in the house her parents bought 42 years ago. She spent the morning with the Shop Vac while her tenant took throw rugs to the Laundromat.
“I can never get rid of the smell unless I rip out my furnace,” she said, adding that she can’t afford to install an overhead sewer or other flood-prevention measures.
In decades at the house, she didn’t remember her parents having any flooding issues until 2009, she said. Then came the Big Ones: two floods almost exactly a month apart in 2010. Since then, she dreads every summer, waiting for a big rain that will bring more sewage into the basement.
The village of Forest Park has set in motion a five-year infrastructure plan that includes a sewer evaluation study and a “tiered plan” to replace 4-inch pipes with 8-inch pipes and divert storm water from the sewer system over the next couple of years. The first water main replacement and upgrade will be in the 800 block of Lathrop this year when a road is resurfaced.
But some Forest Parkers feel like sitting ducks, waiting for heavy rains to ruin their summer.
Hannah neighbor Deb Jensen also found evidence of sewer water in the early morning. A line on the basement door showed the water reached up to 3 inches overnight and then receded.
A portable sump pump and about two and half hours of scrubbing with bleach was in her future. She said she had to take two days off of work.
“A couple of times a year – this is not worth it!” Jensen said. She’s reluctant to invest in a backflow prevention system because she’s not certain it would fix things. Other options seem “so expensive,” she said. Everything in the basement is up on blocks, she said.
“We’re way smart about things now.”
Jensen said causes of the recent regional flooding are not immediately clear.
“It’s just so frustrating because we don’t have enough information,” she said.
“For the weather, it’s probably time to accept that this is probably the new norm in this area,” she said.
On the 1200 block of Elgin, Robert Bundy couldn’t believe the 6 inches of water in the basement he discovered Friday morning, especially after he and his wife paid $18,000 for a popular basement sealing company to do flooding remediation last fall.
“I went to let the dogs out and my entire backyard was a lagoon,” he said, noting that after every large rain, the intersection of Elgin and 13th Street is full of water.
Bundy and his wife moved to Forest Park shortly before the 2010 flooding. They have a new 6-month-old infant.
“We lived through the first – and second – floods in 2010.” The couple had a backflow preventer installed and then a “gigantic” sump pump as well as trench drains and tiles.
“We thought we’d never have to worry about this again,” Bundy said. “We might as well have done nothing!”
As a microbiologist, he’s certain he’ll be able to get rid of any mold that may show up in the basement, but with a growing family, he needs space.
“It’s hard to think a third of my house is not livable space,” he said. Otherwise, he loves the house, built between 1908 and 1918.
Repeated flooding, however, can’t be good for the historic housing stock, he pointed out.
“How many more years of a wet basement can you handle? It’s destroying our homes and sinking property values.”
“It’s only a matter of time before news gets out that you don’t want to live in Forest Park because you’ll be underwater.”
This story has been updated to clarify the relationship between landlord Shirley Roberts and her tenant.