Lebanon Council looks to move forward with flooding abatement

By Angela Simmons

LEBANON – The Lebanon aldermen will soon hear a presentation from an engineer on the state of flooding issues at Roger Drive and Merril Street. An engineering survey was obtained from Freeburg firm Rhutasel and Associates, Inc., and the council wants to hear a report directly from engineer Mark Rujawitz. 

The two decade long struggle with flooding issues has been a constant on the city’s “unfinished business” agenda for months, ever since worsening issues were brought to the council back in May 2018 by Noel Harpe, a Roger Drive resident. Harpe has faithfully attended every meeting since then, in hopes of finding some solution to the deep pools of water, sink holes, and property damage incurred by herself and her neighbors. 

Since Harpe’s May visit, Mayor Rich Wilken, Streets and Alleys Superintendent Jody McNeese and several aldermen have gone to the property and met with representatives from McKendree University, Illinois legislators and more to try to assist the residents, but there is no easy solution. A permanent solution is expected to cost upwards of $250,000. 

Wilken stated that the report has not been given yet due to searching for funding, and he has been working with Rujawitz on that subject. The pair recently found out that total funding from the Illinois Motor Fuel Tax funds would not be possible, “however, portions of the project will be able to be covered,” Wilken explained. 

Rhutasel has previously worked with the city, including a project in 2011 to relocate 4,000 feet of the Belleville Street water line. Relocating the eight inch line cost $200,000. 

The currently deteriorating line is three feet wide and on top of deterioration, is not able to drain properly, which causes flooding with each rainstorm. Residents on Roger and Merril have been coming to city council with concerns for many years, and there was even a petition to ask for assistance in 2016. 

Earlier in the meeting, the council and Clerk Luanne Holper had discussed projects not getting finished due to there being no designated point person. Holper suggested having the chairman of each committee be responsible for being sure to complete projects, as well as update fellow council members. In an effort to be clear moving forward, Wilken was designated as the point person for the Roger and Merill project. 

After he brings in Rujawitz for a council presentation, the project will be able to go up for bid and move forward. 

In Other News:

• Jeff Fairlie, chairman of the planning commission, spoke to city council about multiple recommendations by the members. The first was to approve an ordinance to allow for or create residential design districts. The concerns over holding developers accountable were answered by Fairlie explaining that the ordinance could expressly require covenants and indentures to hold someone accountable for upkeep. The council voted unanimously to create the ordinance, and then tabled a vote for the RDD to move forward until the ordinance is in place.

Fairlie also presented a recommendation to amend ordinances to streamline the process of applying for business licenses or permits and special use permits if listed uses are not currently allowed. “We don’t believe doors should be immediately closed to business owners. There should absolutely be no reason why they can’t come in and request a meeting to talk to us, and to see if that fits in line with the plan for our city. We want everyone to be heard and we want to be able to hear them,” Fairlie explained.

City attorney John Long will look into changing verbiage of existing ordinances and make a recommendation.

Fairlie also discussed the commission’s recommendation to update the comprehensive plan map to match the TIF district map to be sure that land uses match city zoning and plans, and asked for funding for a recording device for the planning commission.

• Alderman Rick Gale commended the efforts of Streets and Alleys Superintendent Jody McNeese, as well as the rest of the crews, for all of their hard work clearing snow from the most recent storm. Wilken said that a resident called him and complimented the city crews, and Water and Sewer Superintendent Penny Pinkstaff commended members of her department that assisted in the effort.

• Before the city declares a 2006 Ford F-250 as surplus and puts it up for auction, Pinkstaff would like to have it looked and get an estimate to determine if it could be repurposed for the water and sewer department.

• The council approved a $4,000 in kind donation to Friends of McAllister Park. The group was awarded two grants totaling $76,000, still leaving them $30,000 short of their goal for park redevelopment improvements. Belinda McAllister spoke to the council and added that Christ Brothers would be donating $6,000 in asphalt towards the new basketball court, and Rachel Royer, owner of Cedar Lodge, has offered $2,400 of stump removal through a family owned company. McAllister said their request from the city was $4,000 for water and sewer tap on fees.The water and sewer taps will be for new restrooms, which she noted would be the exact same as the restrooms in Horner Park.

The council unanimously approved the donation.