The largest capital improvement project in the history of Wilmette received its moment in the spotlight Tuesday night.
Wilmette trustees heard a presentation from Brigitte Berger-Raish, the village’s director of engineering and public works, at the Dec. 12 Village Board meeting, and she highlighted what she called a successful large-scale Neighborhood Storage stormwater management project.
Berger-Raish told trustees the project “will bring flood relief to thousands of (Wilmette) residents” and she noted in a village memo that it has “significantly transformed the quality of life on the entire west side of the Village, which had a long history of urban flooding.”
“Wilmette had a flooding problem — not just on heavy rain events but even in moderate rain events as well,” Berger-Raish said. “And I can’t tell you the number of conversations I had with your neighbors during and after storms and they shared with me the physical, the financial, the emotional toll that these rain storms had on their livelihood. So today is a really good story.”
The project was first detailed more than 10 years ago and since its inception has been discussed at more than 50 public meetings.
Wilmette’s Village Board first approved the massive stormwater-relief efforts known as the Neighborhood Storage Project in 2018. Less than a year later, the board approved an optimization of the project, which brought the level of protection up from 71 percent to 98 percent for structures that are vulnerable to flooding on the west side of Wilmette, officials previously said.
To deliver the project’s central goal of flood relief, the village installed 13.8 million gallons of stormwater storage underground at Community Playfields, Hibbard Park and Thornwood Park and 5 miles of storm sewer under streets throughout the west side of town, Berger-Raish said.
Completion of the project reduces flooding by almost 2 feet in the worst-hit areas of Wilmette as well as providing a significant reduction in sanitary-sewer backups, according to Berger-Raish.
The performance of the project was put to the test right away in March of this year when the village experienced what was described as a 25-year storm event. The town received more than 2 inches of rain over 30 minutes during the March 31 storm.
In 2013, when Wilmette faced a similar rain event, nearly 400 houses flooded, officials said. In 2023, zero houses reported flooding, according to officials.
“The data here speaks for itself,” Berger-Raish said.
Trustees lauded and thanked village staff for completing what was described as an “amazing team effort,” “an incredible accomplishment” and “legacy project.”
“I have to think that this is even a better outcome than anyone could have ever anticipated,” Plunkett said, later adding that she’s “so proud of our village for every step of the way” and that the project is “something for (staff) and our village to be proud of forever.”
At the time of the optimization approval in 2019, the village anticipated the project would cost $68 million. But the total price came in at nearly $7 million less than what was first estimated. The final cost was approximately $61.5 million, officials said. The project was funded by a stormwater utility fee that went into effect Jan. 1, 2020.
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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.