Residents near Keith Creek growing restless

March 17, 2010

By Stuart R. Wahlin
Staff Writer

As the weather warms, residents along Keith Creek are reminded of the two 100-year floods to strike in back-to-back summers recently. The warm weather also means they’re seeing more crime in their neighborhood.

Mike Brackett, president of the Keith Creek Neighborhood Watch Association, first approached council members Feb. 22, urging them to approve a $9 million bond issuance related to the Keith Creek Flood Mitigation Program for the acquisition and demolition of homes impacted by the floods of 2006 and 2007.

Concerned about backing the bonds with the 1-percentage-point sales tax for infrastructure, which has a five-year sunset clause, aldermen sent the issue back to committee for further deliberation.

“We’ve had prostitution in there, drug dealing, vagrants, a lot of gang-bangers starting fires,” Brackett told aldermen Feb. 22. “Two-and-a-half years ago, we were promised to have the houses down, and the people that have come in there and the things that have happened need to be over with.”

Three weeks later, Brackett is still waiting for the city to take action.

Returning to council chambers March 15, Brackett read an excerpt from a news article about the city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa—comparable in size to Rockford—buying and demolishing 286 flooded homes and buildings. He noted city officials determined the structures to be a danger to the community, and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would cover the cost.

“It’s hard for me to understand why we can’t take care of this. We know we’re getting our money from FEMA. We know that it’s coming,” Brackett argued. “But regardless of FEMA, we still have to fix this problem.

 “We don’t need this to go back to committee,” he added. “We all know what needs to be done. We need to have a proactive government here to work with us so we can get this situation taken care of.”

Alleging poor communication from city officials, he indicated: “We feel like we are alone. I just want someone to do their job.”

Following the two floods in less than a year, a cleanup effort of the creek was undertaken, but Brackett reported sediment is already beginning to build up again.

“Maybe the city is waiting for this place to flood again so it can be bought out by FEMA regardless—three strikes and you’re out,” he suggested. “We’re all starting to believe that maybe that’s what the position is here, because nothing’s being done.”

Brackett said he’s also worried about the possibility of the Alpine Dam failing if another flood hits.

“God forbid that thing ever breaks. We’re supposed to have flooding again in the upper Midwest. It’s been predicted,” he warned. “If that dam breaks, I may not be standing here the next time the water happens.”

Ald. Frank Beach (R-10), whose ward is home to the Alpine Dam, said he was also worried about the dam’s integrity.

Beach described a recent conversation with Storm Water Program Manager Brian Eber, during which Beach asked whether the dam could withstand another major flood.

“He said: ‘Absolutely, it’s gonna make it. It’s not going to break,’” Beach assured.

Beach suggested that regular updates or news conferences be held to keep the community informed about the city’s flood relief efforts.

“There’s lots going on in terms of what’s happened to these homes, the flooding,” he asserted, although acknowledging the progress could be communicated better to citizens.

2010 budget delayed another week

Aldermen agreed to another layover of the city’s proposed $110 million 2010 spending plan.

The budget was laid over during the March 8 meeting, requiring only a motion and a second per council rules. But because the budget had already been laid over the previous week, a majority vote was required March 15 to delay the matter for another week.

The motion by Ald. Bill Robertson (I-14) prevailed in a voice vote. Robertson explained another week was needed to finalize a resolution that would earmark video gambling revenues toward capital purchases, which are otherwise not funded in the 2010 spending plan.

The statutory deadline for budget passage is March 31.

Resolution

→ Authorizing the use of up to $350,000 in Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) funds for the demolition of 1100 Buchanan St. as part of the Morgan Street bridge project. The demolition contract was awarded to Swinson Materials for the company’s $333,000 bid.

Committee reports

→ Approving the purchase of a conflict monitor tester through a state contract with Brown Traffic Products, Inc., of Davenport, Iowa, for $11,300.

→ Approving a $4,294.99 claim by Douglas Larson, whose parked vehicle was struck by a city snowplow.

→ Awarding Municipal Design & Environmental Services a $22,570 design engineering and construction observation agreement for alley work along Walnut and State streets, west of Madison Street.

→ Awarding Dixon-based Willett, Hoffman & Associates a design engineering and construction observation agreement worth $98,830 for drainage work in the Sixth Ward.

→ Approving an intergovernmental agreement with the Rockford Mass Transit District (RMTD), providing a written guarantee securing a $1.5 million revolving line of credit with J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. The guarantee, to be reviewed annually, will still face a final vote in the form of an ordinance. Meantime, RMTD is moving ahead with plans to build an east-side transfer station on Lyford Road with the help of $2 million in state funds.

→ Awarding Steve Piper & Sons, Inc., of Naperville, an agreement for wood grinding on an hourly basis.

→ Awarding an agreement for rental of traffic control devices to Sanco Traffic Control.

Closed session

Aldermen convened briefly in closed session for the purpose of discussing an employee disciplinary matter.

Public comments

Barb Verni-Lau, the new director of Southwest Ideas for Today and Tomorrow (SWIFTT), told aldermen, “We have a lot of needs in our neighborhood and our community, and I’m about going to the business of getting it all done.”

She commended aldermen for the progress made in the city during the past five years she’s lived out of town.

“I know it takes a long time to bring to fruition some of the projects, but what you are doing in the city has made such a big impact on me coming back,” she noted. “I’m very impressed with all the work, that hard, hard work, that you’ve done, and it’s really paying off. …I think we’re in a place now where we’re just gonna go way up.”

Jim Buckingham, who has lodged complaints to aldermen against the owner of a downtown apartment building in recent weeks for alleged code violations, responded to comments made by Ald. Lenny Jacobson (D-6) during the March 1 meeting.

Suggesting Buckingham’s complaints were unfounded, Jacobson proposed that public comments be limited to issues on the council agenda.

“Sometimes, it becomes almost a witch hunt,” Jacobson said.

During the March 15 meeting, Buckingham retorted, “These are exactly the types of city problems that should be part of the agenda for all who sit in the horseshoe.”

Buckingham called for more frequent inspections of properties owned by alleged “slumlords,” and that the cost be passed on to the property owners in violation, not to taxpayers.

“Tax money that we don’t have should not be used to make slumlords tow the line,” he argued.

Proclamations

March 20 was proclaimed Walk a Mile in Her Shoes Day. March was proclaimed Montessori Learning Path Month.

Absences

Aldermen Lenny Jacobson (D-6), Linda McNeely (D-13) and John Beck (R-12) were absent.

 From the March 17-23, 2010 issue

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