The city this week decided to make the first payment on what could cost at least a few million dollars to pull sections of the downtown area out of a newly designated flood plain.
The flood plain designation will force property owners to buy flood insurance and could impose restrictions on building renovations.
The Joliet City Council on Tuesday approved a $160,000 contract with Rempe-Sharpe & Associates to design a levee or flood wall that would satisfy the Federal Emergency Management Agency and eventually remove the flood plain designation.
The new FEMA map goes into effect Feb. 15, designating a flood plain described as a horseshoe in the downtown area as it runs down Joliet Street but curves around most of Chicago Street before taking in an area east of the railroad tracks. It then takes in a large part of the residential area south of downtown.
City officials say the levee is not needed to prevent flooding. But after failing to persuade FEMA that the downtown area is not in danger, Joliet intends to build the levee to reverse the flood plain designation.
“The bottom line is we’ve run out of technical appeals,” Public Works Director James Trizna told the council.
The next step, Trizna said, is not only to design a levee or flood wall but to get FEMA certification that construction will remove the flood plain designation.
Part of Rempe-Sharpe’s job will be to get what’s called a Conditional Letter of Map Revision that gives the city assurances that levee construction will remove the flood plain designation.
“If we don’t get that, we don’t go forward with this project,” Trizna said.
Rempe-Sharpe two years ago estimated the cost of a flood protection system at $2 million or more. The actual cost will depend on what it takes to get the Conditional Letter of Map Revision.
Damon Zdunich, a candidate for councilman in the April election, urged the City Council on Tuesday not to give up the fight against the flood plain designation or at least to get the federal government to pay for it.
“This should all be on the federal dime,” Zdunich said.
The city already plans to pursue federal grants to fund part if not all of whatever project is designed.
In the meantime, property owners with mortgages are likely to hear from banks in coming weeks, said Council member Pat Mudron, who works as an insurance broker.
“The bank will get the notice that this area is in a flood plain, and you have to have flood insurance for all the loans that you have in the area,” Mudron said. “Everybody’s going to have to get flood insurance.”