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Forest Preserve dredges east diversion ditch

Thursday, March 22, 2007
Winnetka Talk

Last week, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County started dredging a drainage ditch which runs east of the Skokie Lagoons from about Lake Cook Road to Willow Road.
The dredging began north of Tower Road and the District will work its way south in the coming weeks. The project is scheduled to end on May 1. Sediment and soil have collected in the ditch over the past 80 years. It has impeded the flow of water and has caused residential flooding problems in Glencoe, according to Chris Merenowicz, assistant director of the resource management department at the District.
"All the storm sewers coming into the ditch in those areas were filled up," Merenowicz said. "Each time you got a big rain, it's backing water up into the streets, and the storm sewer systems and even some of the houses' basements," he added. Dredging the ditch would "definitely" help the situation, he said.
The east and west drainage ditches were first created in the 1930s to help keep impure water in the Skokie River from flowing into the Skokie Lagoons, according to Merenowicz. The west ditch runs parallel to the Edens Expressway.
The project to dredge the east drainage ditch (and remove debris from the west drainage ditch) are part of Senate Bill 83, a $100 million-dollar bond issued by the Forest Preserve to complete projects at the Chicago Botanic Gardens and hundred of other locations throughout the District.
The first phase of the project began about three weeks ago when, prior to dredging the creek, the District cleared a 20-foot path of trees west of the east drainage ditch to allow maintenance vehicles future access to do the dredging. It would also make it easier to clear fallen debris in the future. The District cut down invasive species of trees, but tried to leave larger trees like cottonwoods, Merenowicz said.
One Winnetka family was deeply affected by the tree removal. On February 20, the District chopped down so many trees behind Noreen and Martin Hirsch's home, on Hazel Lane, that their backyard -- which borders the Forest Preserve behind Forestway Drive and has always been buffered from view of those traveling on that road -- became completely visible from the street.
"The situation there was kind of unique," Merenowicz said. In some spots, the ditch is farther away from the road than in other spots, he explained. In the area where the Hirsch's home is situated, the road and the ditch are relatively close together. After workers cleared the 20-foot band of trees next to the creek, there was little vegetation left to screen the Hirsch's backyard from Forestway Drive, he said.
The District took down a number of trees marked orange meaning save. "To get this heavy equipment in, sometimes trees are removed," Richard Newhard, director of the department of resource management at the Forest Preserve District, said in a recent telephone interview. "It will be restored," he said.
The Hirsch's met with Newhard a few weeks ago. They told him that they hoped the District would rectify the situation by putting in a berm -- a mound-- and planting trees on top of it. That might give them back a private backyard.
Merenowicz said Monday that adding a berm there was unlikely. Since the area behind the Hirsch's backyard is part of a flood plain, in order to do so the District would need to obtain a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The area between Forestway Drive and the Hirsch's backyard slopes downward naturally, he said. Therefore, adding some type of vegetation to the area where the trees were cut down would probably be enough to buffer their backyard from Forestway Drive, he explained.

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