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Joliet in the floodplain and out of options

The Joliet city seal stands above the Joliet City Council chambers on Sept. 18, 2018, in Joliet.
The Joliet city seal stands above the Joliet City Council chambers on Sept. 18, 2018, in Joliet.

City officials continue to bristle at new federal map standards putting much of downtown and surrounding neighborhoods into a flood plain, with one even characterizing it as an insurance “money grab.”

But they acknowledged having no choice but to approve the new flood plain map Tuesday.

“The option is to approve it or approve it,” council member Larry Hug said.

The city faces being dropped from the National Flood Insurance Program if it does not adopt the flood plain map by Feb. 15.

The new map will require the owners of nearly 700 properties to buy flood insurance and also impose new requirements for any land redevelopment in the affected area.

The affected property includes much of downtown and areas just east of the railroad tracks as well as a residential area south of downtown.

The flood plain is based on the prospect of the Des Plaines River water backing up into the Illinois and Michigan Canal where the two meet just north of Ruby Street.

“How many times have we flooded there and gotten complaints?” Hug asked at a Public Service Committee meeting Monday.

“Zero,” replied Public Works Director James Trizna. “That’s why we’ve been fighting it for 10 years.”

Joliet has known since 2009 that maps redrawn by the Federal Emergency Management Agency would put the area into a flood plain. Trizna in May 2017 warned the City Council that FEMA planned to enforce the new map by early 2019.

At the time, the city had been told a
$2 million levee system could might avert the flood plain designation. But no action was taken on a levee as the city continued to appeal the map.

On Tuesday, the city will vote on a $160,000 contract with Rempe-Sharpe & Associates to design a levee system aimed at removing the downtown area from the flood plain map. The process, however, is expected to take two to three years while the flood plain map remains intact.

“Hopefully, we can get something accomplished,” Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said at the council’s workshop meeting Monday,

Council member Pat Mudron questioned during the meeting whether the remap was “just a FEMA money grab.”

Asked later what he meant, Mudron said the remap brings in more flood insurance customers who will pay premiums into a federal program that has had to cover heavy losses from hurricanes and other coastal disasters.

“There’s only one pool of money,” he said, “and they are now trying to add land that was never in the flood plain from the beginning.”

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