Legislators demand BNSF Railway alleviates flooding from their properties

Legislators demand BNSF Railway alleviates flooding from their properties

Officials from Cook County and the Illinois Legislature demanded at a press conference Wednesday that Burlington Northern and SantaFe (BNSF) Railway be “held accountable for flooding problems” they have caused to neighboring residences as a result of concrete resurfacing of their properties.

State Senator Steve Landek, State Senator Antonio “Tony” Munoz, State Representative Lisa Hernandez, State Representative Michael Zalewski, Cook County Commissioner Frank Aguilar joined Cicero President Larry Dominick in demanding BNSF be responsive for the flooding problems they have caused.

Saying BNSF “is not above the law,” the officials reported that many residential homes and properties, not just in Cicero but throughout the Chicagoland suburbs adjacent to BNSF properties have suffered damaged as a result of rainwater run-off from the railroad’s property.

Zalewski said he introduced HB 1357 to require all railroad companies including BNSF Railway that own a minimum of 5 percent of the land in any community to adhere the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) Watershed Management Ordinances managing rainwater run-off.

BNSF owns more than 7 percent of the land in Cicero, officials said.

State Rep. Michael Zalewski addresses the media on his legislation. Behind him are Cook County Commissioner Frank Aguilar, State Rep. Lisa Hernandez, and State Senator Steve Landek. Photo courtesy of Gerardo Lopez
State Rep. Michael Zalewski addresses the media on his legislation. Behind him are Cook County Commissioner Frank Aguilar, State Rep. Lisa Hernandez, and State Senator Steve Landek. Photo courtesy of Gerardo Lopez

 

“We filed legislation in the Fall, a very simple piece of legislation, that says a parcel of property owned by the railway has to conform with the state, the county and the Water Reclamation District’s drainage law, as they own 5 percent of that property,” Zalewski said.

“We are blessed in Cook County and the MWRD region with a very modern drainage law, an ordinance that makes sure the water shed is being managed properly given the flooding issues that we have. We just simply want the Town of Cicero and the residents effected by flooding to be protected by this ordinance.”

Zalewski noted that BNSF refuses to abide by the MWRD’s Watershed Management Ordinances adding that his legislation has the support of both the Illinois House and the Illinois Senate.

“There will be a push to make the BNSF accountable for their role in rainwater flooding issues,” Zalewski said.

Hernandez, a resident of Cicero for nearly 40 years, said that her home has flooded and that she has noticed increased flooding coming off of the BNSF properties including the flooding under the railroad viaduct on Austin Blvd just north of Ogden Avenue.

“We are calling on BNSF to do whatever they can to alleviate the flooding issue,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez noted that several areas of Cicero have seen flooding as rainwater has poured off of the BNSF resurfaced properties including along 58th Court between 27th Street and 28th Streets, and the viaduct on Austin Blvd north of Ogden Avenue.

In a statement read at the press conference, Munoz vowed that BNSF will be accountable for the flooding they are causing in the Town of Cicero and in many other suburban communities adjacent to their properties.

“Over the past two decades, BNSF has irresponsibly replaced soft ground that absorbs rainwater with concrete and asphalt causing rainwater to wash off onto the properties of nearby homes and private properties causing flooding, without providing meaningful and effective safeguards,” Munoz said.

“We work hard to provide programs to help homeowners deal with the flooding problem, which impacts all communities in the Chicagoland region. It doesn’t help that a company like BNSF that owns so much land in many of these communities and many resources is unresponsive and uncaring, ignoring the flooding problems it is causing to its neighboring communities and homeowners.”

Aguilar said Cook County is prepared to help all residents who are dealing with flooding problems, noting that acting today will help prepare the region for possible flooding in the Spring.

“Flooding is not only an issue in Cicero it is an issue throughout Cook County and the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe railway should be held accountable to all levels of government and especially to the citizens here,” Aguilar said.

“It is a problem me and my colleagues at the county board are working on infrastructure funding to address the issue, but the lack of cooperation is making it more difficult. So to echo the words of my colleagues here, the railway should be held accountable.”

President Dominick said that the Town appreciates the support the legislators and county officials, saying, “Every government and public entity, including BNSF, must be held accountable for the impact they are having on the rainwater run-off that is damaging residential homes. I appreciate all of the legislators and officials who are standing up for the rights of residents to protect their homes.”