Photo by Carla Waters

Andrea Bostwick of American Environmental Corporation of Springfield addresses the Watseka natural hazards mitigation plan committee Thursday night at city hall.

The public is invited to an open house regarding the City of Watseka’s natural hazards mitigation plan.

That meeting is set for 5:30-7:30 p.m. April 2 at Watseka City Hall.

The planning committee met for the third time Thursday evening at city hall. The group has met with Andrea Bostwick and Zak Krug of American Environmental Corporation of Springfield, working on the plan.

Bostwick emphasized to the group again Thursday night that the plan will give eligibility to the city and participating entities to Federal Emergency Management Agency funds once the plan is adopted.

The open house will allow the public to go to city hall, view the plan and give feedback if they wish. Once that meeting is conducted and any changes that need to be made are finalized, the plan will go on to Illinois Emergency Management Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency staff for review. Once it is approved by EMA and adopted by the entities involved those entities will be eligible for funding, Bostwick said.

That funding is important for the area, Mayor John Allhands said, and is something that hasn’t been available since an updated plan was not in place.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is,” Allhands said after the meeting. “One thing this will open up for us, getting this plan approved through IEMA and FEMA, is that we are going to be able to go after FEMA money to help do preventative and protective measures in regards to other floods, as far as impacting the damages and stuff like that. It could even mean more mitigation funds as far as buying homes and the demolition to kind of help other folks put some money in their pockets.

“The first DNR grant was $5.3 million, but we can only stretch that so far,” he said. “This is going to help out quite extensively.

“Right now with a couple of the school board members, we’re even talking about trying to intermingle our funds or stretch out tax dollars together and get those kids out of the Nettie Davis impact area. Wanda Kendall we’re finding out is maybe in or close to the flood plain, so this might be some fundings from FEMA, along with the city on TIF and the school district through their resources that maybe we can get out kids in an area that is safe, dry and not have the interruption of lecture time and stuff like that.”

The plan has projects that are listed from the city, the school district and Iroquois Memorial Hospital.

Bostwick said that the plan must have the projects listed before FEMA and IEMA will consider the projects. She also emphasized that while the projects are listed in the plan now, that doesn’t mean that in the future it can’t have more projects added. As projects come up they can be added to the plan.

Bostwick told the committee that once the plan is adopted, the committee must meet once a year to review it and make sure that all the items listed are still viable options as far as projects that are needed.

Every fifth year, the group must meet and go over the adoption process as it is doing now, she said.

Allhands also noted that other entities can opt in in five years. “They can opt in to it, if they aren’t a part of this plan now, when we go to renew in five years, they can jump in at that point. When we started putting this together, I think we were trying to encompass what we could around town that could help out with a lot of different facets in the area.

“I just appreciate the town folks that came in because that helped up obtain our part of the grant,” he said, noting that the plan is being paid for through a grant.

Allhands said he encourages everyone to attend April 2 and look at the plan. “We’re going to have it posted on our website,” he said, noting that the school district and hospital have also talked about posting the plan on their websites also.

During the meeting, Bostwick noted that flooding seems to be the most talked about hazard for the Watseka area, but that there are other hazards also, including thunderstorms with damaging winds, heavy rain, winter storms, extreme cold, excessive heat, hail and lightning.

She said FEMA lists four types of categories for mitigation projects and activities. Those include education and awareness programs, local plans and regulations, natural system protection and structure and infrastructure projects.

The goals for the Watseka multi-jurisdictional natural hazards mitigation plan include educating people about natural hazards and ways they can protect themselves, their homes and their businesses; protecting the lives, health, and safety of individuals living in the city from the dangers of natural hazards; protecting existing infrastructure and designing new infrastructure to be resilient to the impacts of natural hazards; incorporating natural hazard mitigation into existing and new community plans and regulations; placing a priority on protecting public services, including critical facilities, utilities, roads and schools; preserving and protecting the rivers, creeks, floodplains in the city without impacting those down stream; ensuring that new developments don’t create new exposures to damage from natural hazards and protecting historic, cultural and natural resources from the effects of natural hazards.

Some of the projects listed in the plan have a high cost and have a time frame to complete of several years. For example, one project listed in relocate the public works facility out of the 100-year floodplain of the Iroquois River, which has a time frame of 10 years should FEMA funding ever be available for that project. Raising the berm elevation at the wastewater treatment plant to improve resilience and prevent future potential flooding is also a project listed. Other projects for the city that are currently listed on the plan include acquiring and removing/relocating existing structures from flood hazard areas; relocating fire station 2 out of the 100-year floodplain of the Iroquois River; constructing a flood control berm around the public works building to improve resilience and prevent future potential flooding; elevating the Mulberry Street pump station out of the floodway/100-year floodplain of Sugar Creek; constructing a new control building at the wastewater treatment facility hat is elevated out of the 100-year floodplain; separating the remaining combined sanitary and storm sewer systems in the city; repairing/relining storm sewer sections where infiltration is occurring to prevent back flow problems, including but not limited to South Second Street an other various locations; purchasing and installing a natural gas generator at the wastewater treatment plant to increase system resilience, maintain operations during extended power outages and eliminate potential fuel contamination from existing diesel generator; constructing a concrete channel in the main ditch to prevent soil erosion and washouts resulting from heavy rain and flood; conducting discussions with the Illinois State Water Survey about updating flood insurance rate maps for the city; creating “blue spaces” (storm water retention/infiltration basins, swales, etc) with managed habitat as well as recreational areas on floodplain buyout properties to improve community resilience, provide habitat and additional storage capacity and slow storm water runoff in an effort to reduce flood impacts in hazard prone areas; design and construct a community safe room equipped with emergency backup generators and HVAC units that can also serve as a warming/cooling station for city residents on Elm Street north of City Hall; retrofit city hall to include an emergency operations center equipped with stand alone communications center; conduct a study to determine the appropriateness of raising West North Street between 335 and 395 to provide an alternative route through Watseka when the U.S. 24/Route1 intersection is impassable due to flood events; remove riprap/debris deposited in the Iroquois River floodway in order to become eligible to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Ratings System; participate in the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating system to lower flood insurance premiums for residents; continue to make the most recent Flood Insurance Rate Maps available to asset the public in considering where to construct new buildings.

Unit 9 projects in the plan include: installing air conditioning units at the high school to serve as a cooling center for area residents; purchasing and installing a grounding system at the high school and Wanda Kendall to protect critical elements and improve the buildings’ resilience to lightning strikes; conduct hydrologic/hydraulic analysis to identify design solutions to alleviate recurring drainage/flood problems around the high school gym and north parking lot areas; construct the identified design solutions to alleviate recurring drainage/flood problems around the highs school gym and north parking lot areas.

Projects in the plan for Iroquois Memorial Hospital in clyde purchasing and installing an emergency backup generator at the Iroquois Regional Health Center building to provide uninterrupted power and maintain operations during a power outage.

Bostwick emphasized that the projects have to be listed in the plan before FEMA funds will be considered for them should they become available.