New flood protections to save Champaign from water-logging

By Whitney Wyckoff

A team of developers, led by assistant City of Champaign engineer Eleanor Blackmon, presented two plans to the Champaign City Council and the park district board that would improve flood control north of campus while, at the same time, improve the surrounding community.

The presentation was held during a special joint study session with the park district board, at 7 p.m. yesterday at the Bresnan Meeting Center, 706 Kenwood Road.

This is the second stage of a seven-step plan that would help parts of Champaign better withstand major flooding.

The second stage, called the Boneyard Creek Second Street Detention Project, would help the 62 acre area along Boneyard Creek, between Second and Wright Streets, survive a 100-year storm. Right now, the area can sustain itself against a 25-year storm.

As a secondary goal, board members said that the program would revitalize the economically stagnant community between Campustown and downtown Champaign. Building will start in 2007.

Two flood-control plans were proposed at the meeting.

The first, concept A, called for an above-ground retention pond and a “meandering” stream that would snake from Springfield Avenue to Scott Park.

The sides of the pond would be high and covered with prairie grass, and there would be nature trails throughout the park.

Deputy Mayor Michael La Due, D-District 2, said he liked the idea of integrating nature into the heart of the city.

“We should let the environment run its course when we can,” LaDue said. “It would be great if children didn’t have to be in a boy scout troop… to be able to see a red-winged blackbird.”

But there were criticisms to this plan.

At-Large Councilman Thomas Bruno said that the park’s upkeep would be a challenge.

“This is so close to down downtown that I’m afraid that it will be difficult to keep it its natural state,” said Bruno, who was afraid that the park would be inundated with trash.

He said he was also afraid that the rolling topography that concept A proposes could make too good of a hiding place.

Some city council members said that because concept A required that the lake surrounded by steep hills to retain floodwater, concept A lacked utility.

“You could look at the pond, but you couldn’t touch the pond,” said Bruno.

Concept B called for flatter terrain and a more accessible body of water. Floodwater would be stored in underground concrete vaults, and a natural pool on the surface would be routed along second street. A footpath would run along the expanse of the parks.

While the overall look will be “less natural,” it would also be more conducive to holding art fairs, walking or playing frisbee, said Tim King of Hitchcock Design Group, one of the companies commissioned to work on this project.

Blackmon said that the final plan should be a combination of both ideas.

The concern for the flood protection after a series of floods attacked the city in the early ’90s.

Bruno said the developments will not only help with the floodwater, but they will also revitalize the stagnant community between Campustown and downtown Champaign.

“Right now, the area isn’t the community’s best area,” said Bruno. But if the project is successful, “that area should be the most prime real estate in Champaign.”