Rift between Village of Winnetka and park district goes public as Park Board tries to ‘manipulate potential negotiations,’ village president says
Winnetka Village President Chris Rintz minced no words during a recent passionate statement rebuking what he described as erroneous claims from residents and park district commissioners that suggested village officials are negligent in their efforts to address stormwater issues on the east side of town.
Rintz delivered the 10-minute long monologue during the Village Council’s meeting on May 16, saying he was troubled by a recent Chicago Tribune article recapping the Winnetka Park Board’s five-and-a-half-hour meeting regarding its planned improvements at Elder and Centennial beaches.
A key topic of discussion among park commissioners during their April meeting (a recording of which can be viewed online) was a preliminary plan to replace and relocate the Village-owned stormwater discharge pipe at Elder Beach.
Rintz took issue with the way both commissioners and residents characterized the village during proceedings. Many comments criticized the Village’s attention to east-side stormwater problems and suggested the Village pay to relocate the discharge pipe.
“I was troubled by the way that the village had been characterized as obstinate and unwilling,” Rintz said. “More troubling was the manner in which certain statements were made seemingly to arouse public sentiment in an effort to manipulate potential negotiations between the taxing bodies.”
Park district officials did not return The Record’s multiple requests for comment.
Contention between the two local agencies stems from a disagreement over replacing and relocating the discharge pipe. Several park commissioners, including Park Board President Warren James, expressed their belief that replacing the current outfall pipe is a necessity.
Outgoing Commissioner Mickey Archambault even took direct aim at the village.
“It needs to be done. The white elephant is we think the village should be paying for this,” Archambault said during the meeting. “It’s all taxpayer dollars. … We’re really doing our best to try to convince the Village to please work with us, understand this is their system, they’re going to have major input on design. All we’re really asking is: You got an $80 million stormwater project; (replacing the pipe) should be part of that project. Help us and pay for this thing, which is beneficial to the entire community, and not just lop it onto us to take all the hits.”
James also said during the meeting that the discharge pipe has outlived its lifespan and it must be replaced.
But the longtime village president strongly disagreed with assertions that the pipe needs to be replaced, saying the “village has no current plans to change or alter the existing discharge at Elder.”
Village officials recently had the entire pipe televised by American underground, a third-party provider who specializes in reviewing these types of systems, Rintz said.
“While aging, the pipe was found to be in fine working order and condition, with the exception of an end section that was damaged over the years of battering on the lakeshore,” Rintz said. “Initially, when this condition was brought to our attention, the consensus was to avoid wasting taxpayer dollars repairing something that appeared to be destined for replacement by the park district’s plan.
“Since the end-section damage does not compromise the capacity or the function of the system or public safety, we will leave this lie until the path becomes clearer.”
Rintz noted that village officials have not seen a formal request from the park district yet on any Elder discharge replacement, adding that they’ve only been shown “a series of concepts, which seem to constantly be changing.” He also later added that “relocating this pipe and bringing it up to modern-day standards is an expensive and unnecessary endeavor but for the park district project.”
For decades, stormwater management has been a key issue facing the village, and Winnetka has a history of devoting resources toward addressing problems throughout town.
Winnetka has invested $5.3 million since the early 2010s to combat stormwater management issues on the east side of town, according to Rintz, who added that the work is “budgeted annually and continues to this day.”
The Village is also taking on stormwater on the west side of town, partnering with multiple agencies, including the Winnetka Park District, for a mega project at Willow and Hibbard roads. The budget for the village’s multiyear stormwater program is $79 million, according to previous Record reporting.
The Village is also this year in the process of retaining a consultant to help mitigate overlay and water issues because of street and yard flooding, and in some cases basement flooding, in east Winnetka, Rintz said.
Rintz first expressed his displeasure with proceedings from the Park Board session during the village council’s May 2 meeting.
“The Winnetka Park District seems very comfortable spreading falsehoods throughout the community in an effort to support their beachfront improvements at Elder and Centennial,” Rintz said earlier this month. “While surprising, it is a shame they have elected to pursue this conversation in this manner.”
Park commissioners will select a new board president later this month when newly elected commissioners are sworn in. Rintz said the village is ready and willing to work with the board and its new president.
“I look forward to rolling up my sleeves with whomever is chosen and figuring out how we might be able to work together in the spirit of collaboration and truthfulness,” he said. “This is how you build productive partnerships for the benefits of all of us.”
Winnetka’s president concluded his May 16 remarks by asking the community to “trust those sitting here at this desk this evening,” adding that the council has “a proven track record of thoroughly debating and deliberating on how our neighbors’ monies get spent.”
“Whatever the outcome, please rest assured that our process will guide us to the best decisions we can make.”
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Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.