A flood of soggy memories

Opinion: Columns

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

Flooded basements are so disheartening, especially when it's a finished basement. Flood waters damage appliances, carpeting and drywall. Sometimes we lose irreplaceable keepsakes. Forest Park has long suffered this problem and the outlook for many residents remains grim.

This is ironic if you consider Forest Park first attracted residents because it didn't flood like the surrounding area. The village is located on a geological formation that was an ancient sandbar of Lake Michigan. This sandbar was 18-25 feet above Lake Michigan and it formed a semi-circle around the present Chicago area.

Native Americans were attracted to our area, due to its elevation and proximity to the Des Plaines River. When settlers first came, they found the prairie flooded eastward to Lake Michigan but this area remained relatively dry.

The old sandbar was later found to be conducive to cemeteries, as it was easier to dig graves in sandy soil. If you look at a map of the Chicago area, you'll see a "cemetery belt" following the ancient sandbar extending from the west suburbs into the south suburbs.

The sandbar provided elevation; so did a glacial moraine that forms a ridge that runs roughly east and west into Oak Park. This ridge is most visible in Scoville Park. Despite the geological advantage Forest Park once had, we are now prone to flooding.

 Basement flooding plagued my family the day I was born. My mom once told me the story of my birth. She recalled that I was born during a severe thunderstorm. She remembered a hurricane had just hit the southern states and was traveling northward. She believed it was Hurricane Carla but I've since identified Hurricane Hazel as the culprit. Hazel caused a sudden drop in barometric pressure in Chicago, resulting in many pregnant women going into labor.

My mom was driven to St. Anne Hospital on Chicago's West Side to deliver. Due to the sudden rush of deliveries, I was almost born in the waiting room. Meanwhile, the basement of our house in Brookfield was underwater. Our appropriately-named black lab, Dory, was clinging to a floating table. Record rainfall caused the flooding. The 4.19-inch deluge, on Oct. 14, 1954, broke the previous one-day record for Chicago.

We didn't suffer basement flooding, though, when we first moved to Forest Park. Our basement remained dry for decades … until we installed carpeting and dry wall. We were thrilled with our cozy family room, before a record rainfall came in 2007 triggered by Hurricane Dean.

Our family room was soaked despite a standpipe we kept in the drain. We dried out the wall-to-wall carpeting by draping it over our backyard fence. The basement flooded a second time before we moved. Each time, it was a horrendous mess to clean up.

I've been hoping for years that the Deep Tunnel would solve our flooding problem. Properly known as the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP), it's one of the largest civil engineering projects ever attempted. The goal is to contain sewage overflow in tunnels and reservoirs until it can be treated. This, in theory, would keep sewage out of our basements.

Work began in 1975. The system of tunnels has been mostly completed, but the massive quarries that will serve as reservoirs are not yet in full use. The project is expected to be completed in 2029. One of my neighbors hopes to live to see the Deep Tunnel finished. He is only 84. In the meantime, climate change is causing record precipitation.

We thankfully haven't suffered flooding at our new home. If we do, we'll all be in trouble, seeing as how we live on the second floor. 

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