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EDITORIAL: Don’t let Wisconsin’s Foxconn flood Illinois towns with stormwater

Flooding last year in Gurnee. | Thomas Delany Jr.~ Sun-Times Media

Wisconsin is about to send a lot more stormwater downstream to a corner of Illinois that is already struggling to control flooding.

That’s hardly neighborly. Wisconsin should behave.

As construction begins on the huge $10 billion Foxconn manufacturing complex near Racine, a vast amount of water-absorbent farmland will be covered by pavement and buildings — and that has local officials on this side of the border worried. The Gurnee area has barely dried out from a massive flood last July, and it dreads the thought of Wisconsin sending more stormwater its way.

But that is exactly what will happen if Foxconn, and developments that are sure to follow, aren’t held to rigorous stormwater management standards.

EDITORIAL

Foxconn will be situated partly in the headwaters of the Des Plaines River watershed. Officials of communities downstream say they don’t know how much more water might come their way because Wisconsin waived some environmental reporting as part of the deal to lure Foxconn.

The deal also allows Foxconn to avoid installing stringent emission controls, according to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik says officials on the Illinois side of the border have not been allowed to see engineering plans, though Foxconn’s official groundbreaking is on Thursday.

“No one is offering to engage us,” Kovarik said.

Officials in Lake County say they don’t see any signs that either Foxconn or the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has carefully considered potential downstream flooding problems. The Lake County Board, the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission and the village of Gurnee have passed resolutions urging Wisconsin to make sure Foxconn complies with all environmental regulations.

Gurnee’s efforts to mitigate flooding included razing an entire grade school five years ago because it was in a flood-prone area. The Lake County Stormwater Management Commission has spent millions of dollars on flood prevention, Chairman Craig Taylor said.

“What we want is to be sure [Foxconn is] held to the same standards that everyone else around them is being held into,” Taylor said.

At a time when climate change is expected to bring more frequent and stronger storms, foresighted officials around the country are finding ways to intercept stormwater and let it soak into the ground or evaporate instead of gushing into the nearest river. They’re building rain gardens, water-absorbing planters, tree trenches, porous pavement, swales, green roofs and subsurface storage projects.

That’s what should be happening on the Foxconn site.

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