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Two Years After Floods, Trustees Solidify Sewer Improvement Plans

The Village Board directed village staff to plan a $105 million project over 15 years, although the scope and price of the plan would be re-evaluated at least once a year.

Two years ago, the streets of Whitefish Bay were hit with a torrential downpour that was later described as a 500-year storm.

The memories of flooded cars, basement sewage and thousands of dollars in personal property loss resurfaced at a Village Board meeting Monday night, when trustees solidified the scope of their sewer improvement plans.

Whitefish Bay trustees voted unanimously Monday night to plan for a sewer pipe system that could convey 3.6 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, and additional street storage that could manage 5.8 inches of rain in a 24-hour period. In other words, the pipes could manage a 10-year rain event, and the streets would retain water from a 100-year rain event.

The sewer repair project makes up the majority of an infrastructure improvement plan that would be carried out over a 15-year period at a cost of $105 million. The plan contains sanitary and storm water improvements and focuses on the six nodes of the village hit hardest in the floods two years ago.

When formally deciding the level of sewer protection Monday night, trustees emphasized the price of the plan could be much lower, because they will re-evaluate their progress at least once a year.

Although the $105 million is tentative and preliminary, Village President Julie Siegel said it remains a "very scary number." She said the village should wait to see how the Fairmount Avenue sewer project and perform to see if further upgrades are necessary.

"I feel for the sense of urgency, but I happen to be very uncomfortable with the cavalier attitude that we’re just going to spend everybody’s money," Siegel said.

After hearing residents' horror stories two years ago, James Roemer said it is impossible to look a neighbor in the eye and say the village is not willing to protect their property.

“There were countless people impacted in 2010 who still can’t sleep at night when the storm clouds roll out," he said. "I think those people need to have some assurance that the village won’t keep kicking the can down the street and will make some improvements.”

One of those residents is Robert Crawford, who said repeated basement backups have forced him to purchase five furnaces, five water heaters and several different washers and dryers since 1997.

He urged the trustees to invest in the village's broken sewage shed.

"We have a sewer system in this village like a third world city, and nothing's happened since 2010," he said.

Trustee Lauri Rollings said it is up to trustees to move forward with sewer repairs.

“I’m not in favor of raising taxes willy nilly, but I think these are changes that need to be made sooner or later, and I am personally in favor of doing this sooner rather than later,” she said.

Financing philosophy

After hearing a presentation about financing the sewer repairs, trustees decided to spread the sewer work over 15 years instead of 10 years to relieve the tax burden on residents.

They also their intention to charge sewer fees to pay off the future debt related to sewers. A storm water utility would charge fees to residents as well as non-profit entities — like churches, government buildings and community organizations — that do not pay taxes.

Under the financial philosophy adopted by the board, the tax rate for the village's capital improvement plan would peak at $1.78, meaning the owner of a $400,000 would see their village taxes rise and peak at a $388 increase in the capital improvement budget after nine years.

With that guidance from the trustees, village administration will piece together the multiple facets of sewer discussions that have been held and formulate a larger comprehensive plan.

"Tonight I feel like it's starting to gel," Village Manager Patrick DeGrave said of the village's talks about sewer repair. "It's being pulled together to where we can actually offer a plan. I feel we can work in the next couple weeks in many directions, and hopefully pull together the multiple facets so you don't have to be an engineer to understand what's going on."

Village administration is planning to hold a public outreach meeting as early as August to present the plans that have been made so far and solicit resident input for future planning.

Jeff Rumage July 25, 2012 at 05:25 PM
Hi Bob, it's a good question that I somewhat addressed in a previous story but could use further clarification. The current plan doesn't really fit any of the three options presented in April. Those three options were based on the Donohue report, but the Village Board chose instead to revise the plan and focus on the six hardest-hit areas of the village that are most in need of infrastructure improvements. I think the best way to think about it is the storm sewer pipes will be able to handle the impact of a 10-year storm (which the village engineer said is the standard level of protection for municipalities), and the streets could store enough water to handle a 100-year storm. And as one of the trustees mentioned at the meeting, "street storage" should mean the water doesn't go any further than the curb.
Bob McBride July 25, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Jeff, Is there any way to compare what they're proposing to what we have now? If I'm not mistaken, with the Donohue proposal, the lowest cost option essentially provided us with a system that gives us the same level of storm sewage protection we have now, with the assumption being that overflow would no longer go into the sanitary storm system.
Jeff Rumage July 25, 2012 at 06:34 PM
I'm sure there's a way to find that out. I know the majority of the village's sewer infrastructure is 50-60 years old, but I don't know what level of protection it was designed for. I'll let you know what I find out.
Bob McBride July 26, 2012 at 12:41 AM
I've been trying to find it myself and I can't, but I believe that a part of the presentation I saw at the Cumberland Cafeteria Extraordinaire (earlier this year or last year - can't remember when it was exactly), which I think was put on by Donohue, stated something to the effect that the lowest cost option they were presenting was the equivalent of maintaining the same storm sewer capabilities (with replaced sewer pipe sized accordingly) as we have currently w/o having the sanitary system available for overflow. I'm pretty sure that's where the whole concept of street flooding as "street storage" was introduced. I did at one point have that report on my computer here (which I downloaded from somewhere, possibly a link on the Village website), but I can no longer find it. If you have it available or could direct me to that particular file again, I'll see if I can find what I think I'm remembering here.
Bob McBride July 26, 2012 at 02:59 AM
I think I found what I was looking for, Jeff - Donohue's final report on the WFB website. Based on that it appears the the Board selected the equivalent of the middle recommendation. It also appears that there's no particular 24 hour rainfall total (10 year event, 100 year event, etc) for the Village as a whole currently - I'm not sure where I got the idea there was. It might have been a question someone asked at the presentation and my interpretation of whatever response was given. Currently, some areas, such as the one I live in, are unable to handle a 10 year storm w/o some sort of basement flooding. I'm assuming that, since those were singled out for mention, other areas in Village can currently handle larger rainfalls. The charts and maps that were too small for me to read on this device probably gave the ratings for particular areas.

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