Crystal Lake City Council Delays Watershed Ordinance Consideration

After over four hours of consideration ending at 12:20 AM, the Crystal Lake City Council voted 6-0 to delay consideration of a new watershed manual and ordinance for a month.

The postponement came after technical critiques by Nancy Williamson and Cindy Skrukrud, both members of the McHenry County Defenders.

Yours truly asked that salt, phosphorus and dog poop at the forthcoming McHenry County animal control facility be specifically addressed in watershed manual.

Woodland Drive’s Joe Stecker brought a Skippy Peanut Butter jar of what he thought were small asphalt particles that he gathered where Cove Pond flows into Crystal Lake.

First city Director of Engineering & Building Vic Ramirez presented the staff’s response for regulation, monitoring, tracking, inspection, enforcement and financing made by council members the last time the issue was considered.

Next, Hey and Associates’ Gary Schaefer explained the questions and suggestions made by Crystal Lake Park District engineer Chris Burke. He accepted many of them and explained how the city’s storm water management ordinance covered others.

The recommendations had been made available to the city and Schaefer, but not to the public until Schaefer outlined them. The park board is scheduled to officially receive and discuss the report at its Thursday night’s meeting.

Then, for the second time, Councilman Jeff Thorsen again led opposition to passage of the ordinance and approval of the manual until further changes were made.

Again, Mayor Aaron Shepley had to be satisfied with outlining what further changes he perceived were wanted by the other five council members at the meeting (Cathy Ferguson being absent), including saying that he thought Thorsen’s suggestions were “reasonable.”

While Thorsen was delivering his comments, Shepley periodically talked with city manager Gary Mayerhofer.

Thorsen’s passionately delivered suggestions included

  • third party enforcement of the ordinance and manual, instead of city staff’s doing it;
  • implementing George Boulet’s suggestion for wells around infiltration basins to make certain that they were not leaking into drain tiles;
  • having the watershed ordinance automatically cover any subsequent changes in the watershed manual;
  • limiting mass earth grading and instead requiring controlled grading in the watershed (“If the main argument about mass grading versus controlled grading is cost, so be it.”)

“I support a lot of things that were said over there,” Councilman Ralph Dawson said from the other side of the dais.

“I have not had a chance to digest it,” Dawson explained. Thorsen had previously pointed out he had received what was to be voted upon just last Friday.

Dawson also pointed out that the Crystal Lake Drainage District hadn’t been brought into the discussion.

In addition, he expressed his concern that homeowners associations should be given the responsibility for maintaining subdivision infiltration basins and supported “a third party” doing the inspection and enforcement of regulations.

“Are you proposing we outsource?” Ellen Brady Mueller asked Thorsen.

“I’m just proposing we figure it out,” he replied.

“I completely agree we need a third party,” Mueller said.

Thorsen explained that what he wanted was “a watershed monitor, a police dog to make sure it is not failing.”

“Maintenance, too?” Mueller asked, to which Thorsen said he thought that ought to be “part of the enforcement to make sure the maintenance is done.”

Dave Goss agreed that the city shouldn’t “deal with property owners associations.” He preferred Special Service Areas to finance drainage basins. Later, he mentioned special utility taxes on the watershed area might be an alternative. (My observation: since the college does not pay property taxes, a utility tax might be a way to get it to pay its fair share.)

“I would support a third party doing it,” Goss said, pointing out that it “could be overwhelming for staff during part of the year.”

Goss seemed ready to vote for the documents, knowing they could be amended later. He called it “a dynamic document” which “gives us better water quality and quantity going into the lake.” He nevertheless vote with the majority to delay consideration until early November.

In public comments limited to an hour by Mayor Shepley, Williamson noted that both the CVS Pharmacy construction project and the Bryn Mawr subdivision–the one without working sewers northwest of town on Route 176 almost at Route 47 which Rosemary Kurtz investigated –had numerous erosion violations which city staff did not follow up on.

“It took the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to do your work for you,” Williamson said.

The implementation plan (presented earlier by Ramirez) was just posted yesterday,” Cindy Skrukrud observed.

She said it

  • doesn’t include guidelines to show how developments can limit their footprints;
  • lacks information on how to control pollution in new developments;
  • does not ban phosphorus or salt on the watershed;
  • doesn’t require monitoring the quality of storm water before it enters the watershed;
  • relies on infiltration basins that are too big;

“Mr. Schaefer has said changes need to be made,” she continued. “Well that needs to be done.

“Then, there’s the whole issue of putting together a plan for development in the watershed,” she added.

Crystal Lake Park Board President Mike Zellman explained that the park board would consider its engineer’s recommendations on Thursday night, but said,

“It seems to me that the experts have come together. It seems to me the city is taking them (the park board’s engineer’s suggestions) seriously. It seems it was a good investment by the Crystal Lake Park District. I hope the recommendations of Burke Engineering will alleviate the objections of most of the objectors.”

Earlier, park board member Mike Walkup had defied Mayor Shepley by commenting on the watershed vote before the item was reached on the agenda.

In the public comment period Walkup, as a member of the park board, asked “that no vote be taken on the watershed ordinance.”

“You’re out of order. You’re out of order,” Shepley said pretty loudly.

“I don’t wish to wait until 1 o’clock in the morning,” Walkup replied forcefully. “I don’t think people should have to lose sleep in order to speak.”

“I spoke to the president of the board at 5 o’clock today,” Shepley said. “He indicated to me that it was not the intention of the board to ask for a delay.”

“Whatever your close friend Mike Zellman tells you is only his personal opinion,” Walkup retorted, adding that at its last meeting the board had agreed it wanted the city to wait until the park district’s engineer’s recommendations could be considered.

Signaling that those wanting more time to make sure the manual and ordinance are as good as possible was Shepley sometime after 11:30:

”There are obviously some concerns that can’t be addressed tonight. So, let’s not approve it tonight.”

He said it doesn’t impact the McHenry County College zoning petition “one way or the other,” saying, “If I were pressed to do it (vote on the watershed tonight), I would.

“If there’s a whole long line of developers out there, they’re not lining up at city hall,” he added.

He asked council members to give specific instructions to city staff.

Brett Hopkins, who served on the city Planning and Zoning Commission before being elected to the council last spring, said, “the third piece is the plan.”

He suggested putting “together a technical advisory committee (to develop) a plan for the watershed.

“This is my passion. I think that third piece is as important as the storm water manual and implementation.”

Dawson seemed to signal that he would be ready to vote for the watershed measures next time.

“We will not get everything discussed tonight in it,” he cautioned.

“There is no sewer and no water in that area,” Mueller pointed out. “The college has its own well and a small sewer. We’re talking between $20 and $30 million to bring sewer and water in that area. Until the sewer and water comes, I don’t think you’re going to see (a rush to development).”

Mueller also pointed out that city staff, under the direction of Michelle Rentzsch, was preparing a plan for the northwest part of the city. The next meeting will be Wednesday, October 17th, if I remember correctly.

“Michelle is the greenest person I know.”

Mueller put forth the last substantive ideas. She asked about banning road salt. Eric Lecuyer, the Director of Public Works, revealed his department plans a pilot program this winter to minimize road salt in the watershed part of the city.

“Where would be the best place to address this?” Mueller asked.

I think she also brought up phosphorus. Certainly, someone did.

“It could be in this manual,” Ramirez relied. “It would be a pretty strict condition.”

Referring to phosphorus, Dawson said, “If a developer developed 10 acres of 100, we want to put the whole 100 acres under it.”

Muller observed that it would “kind of take care of that problem on its own.”

“The lake appears to have the ability to assimilate phosphorus faster than most lakes,” Schaeffer said.

“Do you believe it should be banned?” asked Mueller.

“Absolutely,” Schaefer replied.

“On all property?” she continued.

“Yes, particularly those tributaries to Cove Pond.” (These include already developed areas of Crystal Lake.)

“You can farm without phosphorus?” she asked.

“Not for row crops,” the watershed adviser answered. “They would have to shift to alternative crops.”

“How many (farms) are in the city limits?” Mueller probed.

“Quite a lot of them,” Rentzsch replied.

Dawson then made the motion to continue the issue until the first meeting in November.

Having seen his plans to pass the watershed ordinance and manual derailed twice when public comment had been allowed, Shepley said,

”It would not be my intention to have public comment (then).”

All photographs can be enlarged by clicking on them.

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