$60 million needed for Forest Park sewers, say Gillian and Calderone

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By Helen Karakoudas Redfern

Last week, state and federal damage-assessment teams were inspecting homes and businesses in five northwestern Illinois counties. This week, inspectors from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Small Business Administration are in Chicago's western suburbs, going through neighborhoods in Cook and DuPage counties.

"They started today in Westchester," Mayor Anthony Calderone said on Monday afternoon. "We don't know when or if they're coming to Forest Park. They may not make every town."

Communities hit the hardest are the focus of this inspection tour. Monday's schedule also included stops in Elmhurst and Cicero.

To dot i's and cross t's in requesting federal relief from recent flood damage, the state must, according to the IEMA, "be able to prove that the ability to recover from the disaster is beyond the capability of local and state governments."

In the concerted effort of municipalities to coordinate compelling details, Calderone and Village Administrator Tim Gillian are ready, regardless of whether these inspectors can stop this week in Forest Park.

At a meeting last week in Elmhurst with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Gillian told municipal leaders from about a dozen flood-devastated towns that Forest Park needs at least $60 million to make needed improvements to its sewer system.

"The Village of Forest Park will never have $60 million to do a project like that," the Chicago Sun-Times quoted Gillian as saying.

That figure, Calderone told the Review, comes from a study done by village engineers in 2000 after flood damage of a magnitude similar to that sustained in the rainstorms of July 23, June 23 and June 18.

"Engineers then did an estimate on what it would take to separate our combined sewer system," Calderone said, referring to Forest Park's links to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and to the Deep Tunnel project. He noted that an adjustment for inflation would now put that estimate to more than $70 million, but also added a caution for perspective:

"This is a complex issue, with no simple answer," Calderone said. "That improvement would take the temporary burden off of one half of the system. If the pipes downstream could not handle any more water, then the water would still back up here," he said, referring to frustrations about the projected 2019 completion date for the Deep Tunnel project.

In terms of what the village can be doing now to help coordinate the push for federal help, Calderone said that village clerk's office has collected more than 200 completed damage-assessment questionnaires and that a Public Works employee is reviewing them and compiling their findings for filing with the state.

The two-page forms are due to Village Clerk Vanessa Moritz by Monday. The village then will file the forms with the county, which in turn will file with the state. The governor's office has 30 days from the date of the disaster it declared to file for federal aid. It has an Aug. 23 deadline to file with Washington, D.C.

Forest Park is among 11 suburbs and one township in Cook County that filed paperwork for declaration as a disaster area. Cook County is one of 12 counties that Gov. Pat Quinn declared disaster areas on July 30.

"All of us mayors are continuing to communicate with our representatives in Congress," Calderone said. "We're constantly reminding them of our situation here, and the need to keep pressure on the White House."

Federal help can come only if President Barack Obama declares an area a disaster site.

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