Chicory Ridge conflict—part one

I was close to my destination, the home of some concerned citizens, when I saw to the left two turkey vultures dining on a dead skunk. I would see much more wildlife that afternoon and talk to some determined people with a just cause, who shall remain anonymous.

This couple and many of their neighbors are vehemently opposed to a planned new portion of the Chicory Ridge subdivision west of Roscoe on a flood plain of the Rock River. The proposed construction is also opposed by the Roscoe Town Council, which voted against it 6-0. The developer, Jeff Petry, is dead set on having things his way despite the negative press he’s received for wanting to put homeowners in harm’s way by building on a floodway.

I was sitting on the couple’s patio when a flock of sandhill cranes began calling from a short distance. They were the first cranes I’d heard this spring. I told the people that the cranes are listed as a state threatened species, and they may breed on the proposed building housing site, which would increase the developer’s illegal status if he built there. Just minutes had passed when a flock of double-crested cormorants began aerial appearances singly and in groups; it was obvious the area had mucho wildlife.

“We have foxes and coyotes here,” said the Mrs., “and during the winter of 2002-2003, wolves were here several times. We saw three wolves in a group twice and two wolves together a third time.”

“We know what wolves look like,” said the Mr. “They were double the size of coyotes and mostly gray with some white and brown. We called the DNR. They told us to take pictures of them, but ya never seem to have a camera at the right time.”

On Thursday, March 25, a small boy became separated during a walk with his parents. The boy somehow ended up at the bottom of a steep wooded hill where the developer attempted to start a road in the flood plain, which is the disputed area. Had it been a couple days earlier, the boy would have got mired in the mud and drowned in the lake that formed in the illegal road excavation on the flood plain after it rained. There is a police report on the incident.

“Dig a couple feet on that flood plain, and it becomes a lake after a rain,” said the Mrs. “Dig a couple more feet, and you’ll hit the water table. And they want to dig basements there? It’s a big mess; the land should be taken out of crop rotation and reverted back to wetlands. You only have to dig a few feet to hit water. You could make all kinds of potholes for ducks.”

There is some controversy as to what the flood plain here actually is. Some are calling it a floodway; some call it a flood fringe. A floodway is an area that would actually become the river in a 100-year flood. It’s a formula calculated by elevation and water volume. FEMA has jurisdiction in the floodway. People opposing the development claim FEMA stats are old and unreliable; the data is 20 years old and should be updated.

Chris Hodges, the Roscoe engineer in charge of the disputed site’s supervision, is using the old FEMA stats. Hodges said that Petry wants to use fill to raise the building site on the flood fringe. The “fringe,” according to Hodges, is the fringe or the edge of the floodway. The flood fringe is under the jurisdiction of the village of Roscoe. As mentioned before, FEMA rules the floodway.

Winnebago County has no laws against building on flood plains, making our county a throwback. At least Roscoe is progressive on the issue. The national trend is to steer away from building on flood plains, especially since the floods of ’93 along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. In fact, whole towns are being moved off Mississippi and Missouri river flood plains. And flood plains and backwaters are being restored. Kinking and bending waterways are back; straightening and filling are out.

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in the environment and disability issues. He has an associate’s degree in science and a bachelor’s in fine arts. Rod is a member of the Audubon Society, the Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and Rockford Amateur Astronomers, Inc.

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