As area residents face the prospect of a hefty tax bill to pay for flooding remediation systems in Forest Park and neighboring villages, an idea from the Cook County Land Bank may help towns solve flooding by recycling foreclosed homes.

An article in Crain’s Chicago Business Aug. 25 describes a program by the land bank that buys up foreclosed property in dense areas with flooding and uses the lots to build retention ponds.

“Instead of flipping foreclosed homes for profit [Cook County Land Bank] is using them as sponges,” the article said. The idea is to convert some foreclosed properties by razing the buildings and convert the land into “rain gardens,” deep holes planted with vegetation that serve as detention ponds in extreme storm events. In heavy storms, water fills the holes and slows down the rush into the streets that causes combined sewer systems like Forest Park’s to choke and flood back into basements.

According to the article, there are between 45,000 and 55,000 foreclosed vacant parcels in Cook County, about 10 percent of the county’s property. 

The article cites usage of vacant properties as retention pools in Milwaukee, Cleveland and in Illinois towns such as East Hazel Crest. A project in conjunction with Openlands, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and the Chicago Public Schools potentially will replace 730 acres of Chicago school property currently blacktopped with permeable pavers that allow water to soak into the ground. 

Christopher Burke, Forest Park’s contracted village engineer, is cited in the article as he acknowledges that already developed communities don’t have space for adequate storm retention.

“You have to store [water] somewhere. There’s no magic way,” Burke said. 

In Milwaukee, the city is demolishing foreclosed homes and leaving the basements as water collectors for flood management, the article said. 

“Let’s get water into those basements, and in the process keep other basements dry. We are making good use of a hole in the ground that somebody put there for us,” said  Erick Shambarger, the deputy director of Milwaukee’s Office of Environmental Sustainability in an NPR article. Basements are covered with turf with holes for drainage into the retention area. Water drains slowly through the existing floor drains, or other holes punched into the basement foundation floor.

In Elmhurst, the Crain’s article said, sports fields are being lowered and filled with fast-draining sand so they can become water retention areas. 

The Park District of Forest Park’s Roos property proposal includes a retention pond area built into the landscaping behind the new recreation center.

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...

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