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home : news : north central illinois   May 24, 2016

2/13/2014 7:42:00 AM
Who says they're 'kicking butt' against the flood?


State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) discusses Illinois’ worsening flood problems at a Wednesday morning conference at Ottawa City Hall, where city officials from around the Illinois Valley decided to do something about it. At a mayors’ conference organized by Rezin, Ottawa agreed to share its successful flood-control program and form a coalition for member communities to keep the Illinois and Fox rivers from wreaking havoc, as they did in 2013.NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
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State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) discusses Illinois’ worsening flood problems at a Wednesday morning conference at Ottawa City Hall, where city officials from around the Illinois Valley decided to do something about it. At a mayors’ conference organized by Rezin, Ottawa agreed to share its successful flood-control program and form a coalition for member communities to keep the Illinois and Fox rivers from wreaking havoc, as they did in 2013.

NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
Tom Collins
NewsTribune Senior Reporter



OTTAWA — Ottawa officials had only recently finished a flood-control program when last spring’s rains sparked a record flood and put things to the test. It worked: The city sustained only minor damage.

Mayors from neighboring towns want to know how Ottawa did it. City officials said Wednesday they not only are happy to let others copy their program but they’d like to take it a step farther: They want to band together to make ready for the next flood.

And there will be another flood.

“I guarantee you: It’s going to get worse,” warned Paul Osman, floodplains program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “The flood we had last year is peanuts compared to what’s coming.”

Osman was among the flood experts invited to speak Wednesday at a full-house mayors’ conference at Ottawa City Hall, where building and zoning official Mike Sutfin gave a quick tutorial on how Ottawa avoided flood damage, though just barely.

Step one: Join the Illinois Association for Floodplain and Stormwater Management. Sutfin said the first conference yielded a “mind-boggling” set of data and useful hints.

Step two: Have at least one city worker become a certified floodplain manager. Somebody at city hall needs to be able to read a floodplain map and manage a flood-control program.

Step three: Participate in a rating program to get city residents flood insurance at the cheapest possible rates.

Now, Ottawa wants to get the entire Illinois Valley area into a collective step four: Working together to implement the same rules and procedures to protect everyone upstream and downstream.

Wednesday’s conference was spearheaded by state Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris). Rezin had been impressed with the success of Ottawa’s program and deemed it too good not to share.

Rezin told the packed assembly not to blame Mother Nature or to chalk up the worsening floods to climate change. The real problem, she said, is development that has steadily overwhelmed the state’s rivers and tributaries. Today, 12 percent of Illinois is mapped as floodplain — and it isn’t just along the major rivers.

“We have creeks that all of a sudden are becoming huge liabilities,” Rezin said.

Area cities can learn from Ottawa, though there’s no single reason why the county seat was spared.

Ottawa had, for one, torn down flood-prone homes in “the Flats” area just west of the Fox River and replaced it with a playground. Last year’s floodwaters kept children from playing on the swings a few days but then washed harmlessly back into the Fox.

Ottawa had also modified its reverse-911 system to contact residents and business owners when the river gauges hit a certain level, ensuring prompt evacuation and emergency planning.

And the city also participated in a ratings program that made property owners eligible for flood insurance at discounted rates of up to 25 percent.

Osman said providing affordable flood insurance to a city’s residents is critical because Congress recently overhauled the flood insurance program so that premiums are rising exponentially for the most at-risk homes and businesses.

At one time, he explained, premiums were subsidized so that homeowners paid the same rates irrespective of risk. No more: People who’ve made past claims and live deep in flood plains now are paying more — much more — than people who’ve never been flooded.

Osman said cities that want to follow Ottawa’s lead need to get informed, conduct risk assessment, open lines of communication and tweak their land-use ordinances long before they plunk down cash for flood controls such as levees and retention basins.

Illinois, he noted, is better regulated than other states with flood issues. Building and zoning codes pushed by regulators in Springfield have either kept new construction out of floodplains or ensured they were sufficiently elevated as to be out of harm’s path.

“We have monster floods every single year,” he allowed, “but our newer buildings weren’t getting flooded. That tells me we’re kicking butt.”

At the program’s conclusion, Rezin asked for a show of hands. How many city officials, she asked, would be interested in joining a consortium dedicated to flood control in the Illinois Valley?

Every hand went up.

One hand came from Spring Valley mayor Walt Marini, who said the city had a certified flood manager but had not been rated for flood insurance. He said he wanted to learn more from Ottawa.

Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or courtreporter@newstrib.com.












Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2014
Article comment by: TomCollinsreporter

Tom Collins replies:

I don't recall seeing Scott Harl but beyond that I could not speak to Peru one way or the other.

But please keep in mind: This event was PACKED, with dozens of representatives from across the Illinois Valley. Interest in a joint flood-control program was extremely strong and I applaud Sen. Rezin for have the insight to take a regional approach to the problem.


Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2014
Article comment by: fosterbw99

Did the Peru mayor or any officials from Peru attendt this meeting?

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