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Debris and headaches are piling up

  • Written by Bob Rakow

OL’s plans to resolve flood issues are coming but not real soon

PAGe-1-2-col-debrisDebris from Oak Lawn residents’ basements and houses were picked up earlier this week. Village officials estimate 25 tons of debris was hauled away this week. Photo courtesy of Village of Oak Lawn.

There are no near-term solutions coming down the pipe to resolve flooding problems in Oak Lawn, but the village is working on long-term answers to the dilemma, which has plagued several areas of the village this year, officials say.

Residents in pockets throughout Oak Lawn neighborhoods were hit hard early Friday morning, as nearly five inches of rain struck the area. Neighboring Burbank was hit the worst, with several streets severely flooded and residents navigating some streets in rowboats.
It wasn’t as bad in Oak Lawn, but don’t tell that to residents who spent the weekend dragging water logged carpet and furniture to the curb for a special pickup on Sunday.
In fact, Republic Services, the village’s waste hauler, along with public works crews, hauled away up 25 tons of debris, said Village Manager Larry Deetjen.
8-22-14-Flood-030Flood waters may not have been as bad in Oak Lawn as they were in nearby Burbank, but things still got pretty wet on Friday morning. Photo courtesy of Village of Oak Lawn.Olejniczak said that in his district heavy rain impacted the same parts of his district that typically are hit hard when it rains hard.
“Alexander [Place] got waylaid. It was just bad,” Olejniczak said.
In fact, many homes in an area bounded by Central Avenue, 52nd Avenue, 87th Place and 88th Place were hit by flooding, Olejniczak said.
Village officials admit there’s no quick fix to the problem, but say they’re working with officials from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District on a series of solutions that will better prepare the village for heavy storms in the years to come.
MWRD officials spent time on Friday at the village’s emergency command center and got first-hand look at flooding at the underpass at 95th Street and Harlem Avenue as well as 87th Street near the retention reservoir in Burbank.
“They identified the problems,” Olejniczak said. “They’ve seen what happens.”
“There’s no quick fix,” Trustee Tim Desmond added.
Indeed not. Olejniczak points to the addition of turn lanes at Southwest Highway and Central Avenue as an example of a project that took required several years to accomplish as the village worked with Cook County to bring the work to fruition. Work is expected to begin in September, he said.
Deetjen said three major projects would, over time, lead to significant flood relief in Oak Lawn.
First, he said, the construction a reservoir at the northwest corner of St. Casimir Catholic Cemetery property “is a hugely important project.” A retention reservoir, would give the village somewhere to temporarily hold water during significant storms, he said.
Second, he said, the village plans to install detention boxes underneath 103rd Street from Central to Cicero avenues when that stretch of road is under construction. The detention boxes also would help alleviate flooding.
Finally, improvements to the Melvina Ditch, which connects with Stony Creek, are part of the village’s master plan.
“The creek has only so much holding capacity,” Deetjen said.
The long-term plan won’t resolve any problems overnight, Deetjen said.
“(It’s) not going to satisfy anyone who took on water,” he said.
Mayor Sandra Bury said the village was proactive in its handling of the storm and its aftermath, despite criticism from political opponents that she, along with Deetjen and Olejniczak, remained silent and the village issued no official response.
“It was all hands on deck,” Bury said. “We had radio and TV interviews, social media, website  and two EOC briefings. I was very proud of the village response to the flooding caused by the worst downpour in recorded history.  Our first responders are awesome.”