On Sunday afternoon, Starke County officials met with State Representative Jim Pressel (District 20) and State Senator Mike Bohacek (District 8) to discuss the recent devastation caused by flooding and what steps to take next.
Local officials who were present included Starke County EMA Director J. Nier, Surveyor Bill Crase and Highway Superintendent Rik Ritzler as well as Engineer Lee Nagai and County Commissioners Kathy Norem, Donnie Binkley and Charles Chesak.
The meeting began at Starke County Annex Building where officials discussed having insufficient access to problem areas. In order to eliminate limbs, fallen trees and other debris from the river to help it flow more consistently, they would need to clear the trees along both sides of the spot they wish to access.
County Surveyor Crase explained at this point, that can’t be done because the DNR has a policy prohibiting clearing two sides so they’re unable to get the necessary permits. Nagai added that IDEM and the Army Corps have similar restrictions.
They said if they had the permits in hand, they believe the work could be done in-house as they already know of some farmers, and other individuals, who would be willing to pitch in to help clear the river.
Crase said, “You know, there’s people who would be willing to help the state if they’d be willing to help us with the permits.” Nagai added, “All we’re asking you guys to do is give us the permission to let us help ourselves. I mean, that’s what it boils down to. We’re not being allowed to help ourselves.”
Another issue brought up was the reliability of the Kankakee River Basin Commission, the organization charged with various aspects of river maintenance. A few comments were made about how certain financial information has been withheld despite numerous requests and that status reports have not been received in some time. It was also mentioned that some of the flooding problems may have been alleviated or prevented through proactive measures that KVBC did not take.
Commissioner Kathy Norem also discussed how the Kankakee River passes through multiple places within the area, and for that reason, she didn’t think the financial responsibility for response efforts should fall solely on the county. She added that she will fight hard to keep from using rainy day funds. Norem included that while recently speaking with U.S. Representative Jackie Walorski, she was informed that the county could receive federal assistance from FEMA, as long as the area’s problems are sufficiently reported.
After county officials finished voicing a few of their concerns, the group moved along to several sites around the county that remain flooded. Highway Superintendent Ritzler and County Surveyor Crase showed the officials around to a few different problem areas including a bridge on 700 E near SR 8, a levee break on 300 E, the Kankakee River Fish and Wildlife Area on SR 8 and 39 and Division Road.
When they stopped on Division Road, County Surveyor Crase explained that over the weekend, crews had to do work on a nearby levee to keep water from flooding over and impacting not only a residential area but also the Industrial Park and Fertilizer Plant.
The tour was to continue to English Lake, where there are other major flooding problems but Pressel and Bohacek had to leave due to time constraints.
They said they believed they had enough information to relay the severity of the damage in the area and encouraged the county officials to send over pictures and to keep in touch. Additionally, they assured the group that they would look into providing assistance with the permit problem that was previously mentioned and they would also work to address their concerns with KVBC.