Forest Park’s village council voted unanimously on March 14 to apply for Cook County Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding to finance sewer and streetscape improvements on the section of 15th Street between Marengo and Elgin avenues.

The village previously used CDBG funding to separate the sewers on the block of 15th Street between Circle and Marengo avenues. If the grant is obtained, officials would be able to keep the separation going one block farther north. The project would also bring the sidewalks into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and include road resurfacing and spot cub repairs. 

The project is expected to cost $450,000. Forest Park is applying for the funds to cover $375,000 of the total, with the village’s VIP fund covering the remaining $75.000. If the village is awarded the grant, it expects to complete the project in 2023.

The CDBG program is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) initiative that funds affordable housing, as well as social services and infrastructure improvements that primarily benefit lower-income residents. While 33 Illinois municipalities, including Oak Park, get the funds directly from the federal government, Forest Park is among the majority of municipalities that must apply through Cook County. The village is requesting the funding to separate stormwater and wastewater sewer infrastructure. This way, the rain water goes into separate pipes from the water used by houses and other buildings, reducing flooding. 

In the application, the village said that they were “challenged with an outdated and undersized combination sewer system,” and that this was the latest step in their ongoing efforts to address the issue.

“In 2014, the Village undertook a study to determine how to separate the sewer system,”  the application document states. “In 2020, the Village took the first step by separating sewers along Circle Avenue providing a dedicated storm sewer main. In 2021, the Village received CDBG funds to separate the sewer on 15th from Circle Ave. to Marengo Ave. This project expands on those previous improvement[s] and will provide additional protection from sewer backups to the nearby properties.”

According to the application, the three census tracts within the project area are 57.4% low-income.

The application also indicates that the village has been applying for funding from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) and “other agencies” to continue separating the sewers without having to rely on CDBG funds.

The application states that, if approved, Forest Park expects to start construction in Spring 2023 and complete it by the fall of 2023.

Meanwhile, the village remains undecided on another project that would reduce flooding — the plans to repave the village employee parking lot at 510 Des Plaines Ave. with permeable pavement. The council was originally scheduled to vote on the contract during its Feb. 14 meeting, but several commissioners expressed concerns about the higher-than-expected bids due to growing material and labor costs. 

The project was originally estimated to cost $288,000, and MWRD previously agreed to cover $201,600 of it. But the lowest bid came in at $345,000, and MWRD declined to increase its share. During the Feb. 14 meeting, the council agreed to table the issue as the village looks at whether it can get funding through the federal Water Resources Development Act.

While the item was on the March 14 meeting agenda, the council decided to table it again. According to Commissioner Jessica Voogd, they were still waiting to get clarity on the federal funding issue, and that they had until May to figure it out.

According to the council staff report, Forest Park can use a portion of $1.863 million it received through the American Recovery Plan Act stimulus funding to cover the extra costs, since the project “provides green/flood benefits.”