Sunnyland’s water woes may soon evaporate
BY CINDY WOJDYLA CAIN firstname.lastname@example.org July 9, 2013 7:30PM
Updated: August 11, 2013 6:42AM
Conditions haven’t been so sunny in the Sunnyland subdivision for the past couple of decades.
Built in the 1940s for soldiers returning home from World War II, the unincorporated Plainfield Township neighborhood southeast of Louis Joliet Mall wasn’t designed to withstand all the rainwater that flows its way.
During big storms, homes and streets flood, and the neighborhood’s leaky sewer system is inundated with rainwater, causing the city of Joliet to charge more to dispose of the waterlogged waste.
“When it rains out here, I can watch the (sewer) meter go through the roof,” Sunnyland Sanitary District Treasurer Joe Hadamik said. “This area is a low-lying area. We’re actually in a soup bowl out here. We take water from Lockport, Joliet, Crest Hill. Everybody’s water comes into our neighborhood.”
April’s flooding was bad, but not as bad as 17 years ago.
“When we had the 100-year flood back in 1996, we couldn’t leave the neighborhood for a few days,” he said.
Help is on the way
Sunnyland’s 296 homes are in the shadow of the giant Toys“R”Us warehouse, the Millennium Square commercial development and the Cambridge Crest subdivision.
“If (Sunnyland) were platted today, it wouldn’t be approved because of the way it’s situated,” said Ron Pullman, director of the Will County Land Use Department’s Community Development Division.
But there is a ray of sunshine headed Sunnyland’s way. For the past several years, local officials have been seeking money to improve the subdivision’s stormwater drainage system, which would reduce flooding and keep water out of sewer pipes.
Hadamik credits county board member Lee Ann Goodson, R-Plainfield, with helping get disaster relief assistance after Hurricane Ike. The storm pummeled the Gulf of Mexico in 2008 and spawned inland storms that flooded some Illinois areas, including Sunnyland.
Goodson said former County Engineer Howard Hamilton was the one who realized Sunnyland would qualify for the Hurricane Ike funds because of its lower income level.
That grant totaled $750,000. The county kicked in $300,000 from its Community Development Block Grant funds and Plainfield Township chipped in $20,000.
When project bids came in at $1.34 million, the fund was still short, however, Pullman said. But the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity recently OK’d another $450,000 in Hurricane Ike funding to make the project feasible. Work is about to begin any day and the project will be completed no later than Oct. 31, Pullman said.
Contractors were given permission to begin work on Monday, said Rhonda Lee-James, program monitor for the county’s Community Development Division.
Bit by bit
The subdivision — which is bounded by Gaylord Road, Kellogg Street, Keith Street and U.S. 30 — will soon be a construction zone. Ditches will be dug, stormwater pipes will be installed and Sunnyland “creek,” which is really an old farm drain, will be cleared of vegetation so “the water should flow as it should,” Lee-James said.
Goodson, who has lived in Plainfield since high school, said Sunnyland has been a problem for decades and the work is long overdue.
“Sunnyland has historically been a horrible place for flooding and nobody had addressed it,” she said. “I am so happy for the residents. This is really something that’s going to improve the quality of life for them.”
Sunnyland is the latest unincorporated neighborhood to get help for its sewer and/or water woes. Several years ago, the county oversaw a $2 million project for the Clearview neighborhood near Nowell Park. Next up was the $8 million Ridgewood neighborhood near the old Silver Cross Hospital.
Currently, the county is chipping away at water line problems in the Lockport Heights area of Route 171. Something has to be done, “When you’re neighbor takes a shower and you can’t wash the dishes because the neighbor is tied to your water line,” Pullman said.
Sewer system overload
Hadamik, who has lived on Keith Street for 22 years, said Sunnyland’s stormwater issue really came to a head about four years ago when the city of Joliet raised the subdivision’s sewer rates by 280 percent. The rate hike came after years of misread meter readings that were caught when a new meter was installed after the Millennium Square project, Hadamik said.
Now each home pays $50 a month. After the stormwater system is improved, Hadamik said the sanitary district can start saving money to repair leaks in the sewer system. He’s also hoping residents will discharge their sump pumps into newly dug ditches instead of into the sewer system. During the April flood, the subdivision’s bill from Joliet more than doubled because of all the rainwater.
Not everyone is happy with the project. Pullman said about 20 to 30 residents won’t give the county easement rights on their property so that ditches can be sloped. Those homes will either get no ditches at all or sharply cut ditches. And some Sunnyland residents don’t want to lose their trees, Hadamik said.
“There are trees that are 40 inches in diameter in that creek,” he said.
But Hadamik is looking on the bright side. He said every year for the past 22 years he would trim the hedges in his front yard around the Fourth of July. But soon those hedges will be removed to make way for a new 4-foot-deep ditch.
This year Hadamik said he looked at the hedges and said, “Why bother?”