Forest Park’s Village Council decided to hold off taking action on the contract to make the village-owned employee parking lot at 510 Des Plaines Ave. green and permeable after Mayor Rory Hoskins suggested that a federal grant could address several commissioners’ concerns about the project costs.

The project, which is already partially funded by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), would replace asphalt with permeable pavement, so that, instead of draining into the sewer, rainwater would seep underneath the pavement, where it would be stored and slowly released into the sewer system. That would keep around 40,000 gallons worth of stormwater from going to the sewers all at once, reducing flooding. But with the pandemic driving up the cost of materials and labor costs, several trustees questioned the wisdom of spending money to repave a parking lot that isn’t in any urgent need of repaving. 

Supporters argued that the project would still be a long-term benefit and pointed out that not spending MWRD money now would force the village to give up the funding and reapply for it again, when it might not be granted. 

In 2020, Forest Park estimated that the project would cost around $288,000. MWRD agreed to cover 70% of the construction costs, or $201,600. The village would be responsible for the remaining $86,400, as well as $28,800 in construction engineering costs. 

While the lowest bid, which was submitted by Lake Zurich-based Chicagoland Paving Contractors Inc., wasn’t as high as the village feared, it was still higher than the original estimate, with the local share of construction costs going up to $143,400 and engineering cost going up to $35,000. Since the amount MWRD is providing is fixed in the agreement, Forest Park would need to cover the increase from its own budget.

Commissioner of Streets and Public Improvements Ryan Nero said that, while he supported the project’s goals, he felt that the money would be better spent on infrastructure issues that he thought were more pressing, such as alley resurfacing and lead service lines replacement.

“I fully understand the benefits of water retention and being green,” he said. “I just think the cost outweighs the benefits for the village in this case.”

Commissioner of Public Property Jessica Voogd argued that the flood mitigation benefits would still be a good investment, and pointed out that, if Forest Park gives up the funding now, it may not get it again.

“Green infrastructure is the commitment that we make to the future,” she said. “Right now, everything that hits those lots runs into the combined sewer, and when it gets overtaken, it leads to flooding. To slow down, any of that — I think it’s a pretty great value.”

Commissioner Maria Maxham said that, while she wanted green infrastructure, she didn’t feel she could justify spending money on a parking lot that doesn’t need repairs when “the money is really tight right now for the village.”

Village Administrator Moses Amidei said the green infrastructure projects could help the village get grants further down the line – but so could adopting a green infrastructure plan without necessarily implementing every part of it.

“There is a cost of going green,” he said. “It may be appropriate for certain situations, it may not be in others, but we’re dealing with an increase in project costs in light of the pandemic.”

Commissioner of Accounts and Finance Joseph Byrnes leaned toward Voogd’s perspective, saying he too was worried about “$201,000 going out the door” and that he thought that, if it would help with future grants, it was worth a serious consideration.

After some back and forth, Hoskins said that, on Feb. 11, he was alerted that the village might be eligible for some funds authorized by the federal Water Resources Development Act, which, among other things, provides funding to improve water infrastructure. He said that an informational session would take place on Feb. 18.

After Amidei said the village had until June to enter the contract, the council agreed to table the matter until its March 14 meeting, when they would have a better idea whether they would be able to get the federal funding for the project.