Richland Farms homeowners calling on East Peoria leaders to fix problem they say has existed for years

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EAST PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — An East Peoria community is demanding answers after flooding continues to be a problem in their neighborhood.

On Memorial Day, flash floods swept through the area causing roads and yards in Richland Farms to be covered with water. Many homes were impacted as well, leaving some homeowners nearly surrounded by water as well as floodwater getting into their homes.

Below is a barrier that’s supposed to protect drivers from going into the creek which flows through Richland Farms.

Neighbors say this isn’t a new problem at all. They want action to be taken so this doesn’t happen again.

Nearly 800 people pay a yearly maintenance assessment to the East Peoria Drainage and Levee District.

Yearly maintenance assessment

Mostly for a levee running through the center of the neighborhood.

The EPDL District is supposed to mow three times a year (it used to be two times a year), but Bill Bassham tells WMBD that isn’t nearly enough.

Tall grass in Richland Farms surrounding creek

“I’d just like to see it cleaned out at the bottom. Mainly just clean out the bottom, get rid of the meander, so that way the water has a straight flow, straight shot, getting out of The Bottoms,” Bassham said.

Bassham has lived in Richland Farms, also known as ‘The Bottoms,’ for decades.

He says Monday’s flash floods wasn’t the first time the neighborhood was hit hard, and it won’t be the last time if something doesn’t get done.

“At least maintain it. If they just straightened the channel, it’s meandering really bad and it’s eating at the wall of the creek and making a tripping hazard for the kids,” Bassham said.

Katrina Arnold has been sleeping in her living room for days because water got in her home. She says her house was basically surrounded by floodwater.

“The creek flowed over so bad that it came over the road area, and the intersection over here was pretty flooded,” Arnold said. “When they drove through, they had to drive real slow because it was so flooded on the roads.”

Fon Du Lac Park District Director Mike Johnson tells WMBD if the work doesn’t get done, it becomes a safety issue for homeowners.

“If you don’t maintain those levees and keep those drainage pipes clean, it’s gonna cause a lot of overflow for the residents,” Johnson said.

Homeowners in Richland Farms are not allowed to purchase flood insurance.

“We got a lot of renters down here, but we still have a lot of older people and poor people down here, and they can’t afford to have their houses flooded. One thing we found out a couple years ago, you can’t get flood insurance down here. If we get flooded out down here, we’re doomed,” Bassham said.

Bassham says they can’t get flood insurance because they are on a flood plain, but he says if the ditch is not maintained which causes even worse flooding to happen, homeowners should have the choice to get it. Especially if their entire property is in danger of being ruined by water and drainage.

We asked City of East Peoria officials why residents cannot purchase flood insurance, you can find their answer below.

The drainage way is separate from the levee, which is the most critical component as it protects this area from the river flooding.  As I understand it, the existence of the Levee and the East Peoria Levee & Drainage District allows property owners in this area not to have to purchase flood insurance which can be quite expensive.”

Ty Livingston | Director of Planning and Community Development

Neighbors say Johnson and his crews have really stepped up to make sure the levee gets mowed.

“In recent years, the East Peoria Sanitary District and the Fondulac Park District have both stepped-up to assist in the mowing effort of this drainage way,” said Director of Planning and Community Development Ty Livingston.

But it’s not even their job. Johnson says it doesn’t matter whose responsibility it is, the work needs to happen.

“It’s truly scary for a lot of those residents. When the water is that high and it’s sitting against those levees, it could cause a major breach. If we have a breach, it will flood that area in minutes,” Johnson said.

Johnson says the next step is meeting with East Peoria leaders to come together and fix the issue.

Officials from the City and East Peoria Drainage and Levee District say the groups will now work to find short and long-term solutions, which may start with a drainage survey of the area.

While the drainage way isn’t the primary focus of the district, it is a concern for them as well as the residents of the Richland neighborhood.  As I understand it, the entities I mentioned above, along with the City, will be meeting to identify short and long term solutions for its maintenance along with potential resources to accomplish what’s feasible.  Once we have a plan together we will meet with representatives of the neighborhood.”

Ty Livingston | Director of Planning and Community Development

Below is information obtained by WMBD from the East Peoria Drainage & Levee District Commissioner Erich Michelfelder.

“The East Peoria Drainage & Levee District (EPDLD) is a Governmental Legal Entity with responsibility to maintain a portion of the levee along the Illinois river to protect the landowners in the district,” Michelfelder said. “EPDLD shares custodianship of the levee with the East Peoria Sanitary District (EPSD).  The primary responsibility of EPDLD is to maintain almost 3 miles of Levee along the Illinois river to ensure it remains certified with FEMA and registered with the Army Corps of Engineers PL84-99 program.” 

Michelfelder echoes Livingston’s sentiment that flood insurance can be expensive, so instead, homeowners are charged the “annual maintenance assessment” described below.

“The district is funded by an annual maintenance assessment of landowners which amounts to ~$250/ acre (~92% is paid by multiple lot owners and local businesses, most single lot owners pay ~$25-$50/ year).   The annual maintenance assessment is used for the following activities:

  • Mowing of the levee and ditch (twice per year – now three times per year)
  • Weed control (3 times per year)
  • Cleaning and maintaining the 84” Culvert
  • Maintaining the pumps, pump house and cleaning of screens
  • Pest Control (primarily levee penetrations by ground dwelling rodents)
  • Administration (Insurance, accounting, legal fees, public filings)  Note:  EPDLD has no employees, services are managed and contracted by volunteer Levee District Engineers
  • Power/ Electricity
  • Inspections per Army COE and FEMA
  • Flood repair (which can be $50k to $200k per event)” Michelfelder said.

“The guys when they mow it, it takes a week. They mow the levee, the ditch here, and that’s it. I pay $300 for the year for my three pieces of property I own for the levee tax. They say there are not enough people paying. I’d like to know where the money is going,” Bassham said. “They’re due to come in and start mowing it. It’s due, they’ll wait until July to do it again, then it’ll be done and they won’t do it anymore.”

While homeowners say serious flooding has been going on for years, Michelfelder says his District was not aware of the ditch overflowing until after Memorial Day, even though homeowners like Bassham say they have brought this issue to city officials at multiple City Council meetings.

  • Flooding is possible when we get a very rare heavy rain as occurred on Monday (up to ~3in/hour), but not ongoing flooding.  To our knowledge, the ditch has not overflowed before this rare rain event.
  • Monday’s unusually heavy rain overwhelmed many drainage systems throughout the whole Peoria area because they are not designed for those rare events. 
  • Mowing was being performed twice per year, but after EPDLD met with the Richland Community, it was increased to three times per year
  • As described above, the EPDLD only maintains a portion of the levee, ditch, pumphouse, and culvert.  The EPSD maintains the remainder of the Levee and the City of East Peoria is responsible for drainage/ sewer systems on the streets in the district.  EPSD is funded through property taxes.

“Digging or dredging of the creek (#1 Ditch) is not required and may not provide significant water retention capacity to reduce flooding.  The study proposed above should help determine alternate/ more effective solutions,” Michelfelder said.

“Years of just not doing maintenance. That’s ridiculous. Everybody does a little bit of maintenance, just like your car. You gotta do maintenance to your car or you’re gonna be walking. We shouldn’t be here talking if they would just be doing a little digging,” Bassham said.

Johnson says another challenge the area faces is that the neighborhood is close to the Illinois River.

“Biggest thing anytime when you have the river get to the levels that it has, then we have a huge rain like we had a couple days ago, it picks up everything. Things from the river, things from the neighborhoods, things from the parking lots and that ends up hitting the drainage system throughout the City of East Peoria,” Johnson said. “It plugs up the culverts, so the culverts have to be checked almost while this is going on. The Richland area, being a low-lying area of the City, is kind of a catch-all for all that.”

Johnson says fixing these issues will protect many kids who live in the neighborhood.

“That community has a lot of kids. It’s a very dangerous area for kids to get down and play in the creek. They don’t realize when the water is flowing through there fast, it has the potential to take them away with it,” Johnson said.

Johnson says Monday night, when the flash floods hit, his phone was ringing off the hook because homeowners believed the levee itself broke.

“It’s hard when you see people worried about losing their lives and everything they’ve got,” Johnson said. “This should be a wake-up call.”

We will stay on top of this issue and provide updates when we receive them.

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