DECATUR — Officials are eyeing an October completion date for sewer work in the Nelson Park area, some six years since the project was first identified.
This summer marks the second year of the work in Nelson Park and the nearby neighborhoods, as crews work to install about 12,000 feet of storm sewer in the area, in addition to repairing roads in the neighborhood once the new pipes have been installed.
Once completed, the $3.6 million project should put an end to basement backups and flooded streets that have plagued the eastside neighborhood for years. The need for improvements was first flagged by the city in a 1966 drainage study.
"The jury is still out, but it's got to be better," said Brad Berry, a 20-year Nelson Park resident and secretary of the area's neighborhood group.
Berry said he hadn't experienced basement flooding himself, but had heard over the years from other neighbors who have. "If everything works according to plan, it shouldn't be a problem anymore," he said.
City Engineer Paul Caswell said the work is the largest storm sewer improvement the city has undertaken in years.
“We’ve had to search back for the last project we did of this magnitude for storm sewers,” he said.
The cost of the work is being paid for through a loan from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. The city will pay back the loan over a 20-year period at an interest rate of 1.75 percent.
The sewer project is part of an agreement with the EPA, which is requiring the city to address sewer issues such as increasing sewer cleaning and de-rooting, reducing basement backups for residents and eliminating inflow connections. Previous estimates of the work puts the total cost at $70 million.
The city originally planned to tackle the work in the Nelson Park neighborhood in 2012 as part of a capital project. Preliminary designs led to a $4 million cost estimate, and the work was put on hold as city officials tried to identify sufficient funding.
Caswell said they have wanted to take on the area for years, as they have heard complaints from neighbors about basements flooding and some flooding on the streets as well.
This project is especially notable because crews are doing what is called a combined sewer separation. Where before storm water and sewage was carried through the same pipes, this project will allow the storm water to drain into Lake Decatur, while the sewage will head to the sanitary district.
“It’s the first sewer separation project they’ve done in my lifetime,” said Matt Newell, the city’s director of public works, who has been with the office for about 30 years.
Work began last summer, with crews working on sewage in Nelson Park and the very southern parts of the neighborhood north of the park. Construction shut down over the winter, and started back up again this June.
Since they are working in a neighborhood, Caswell said crews are going “piece-by-piece,” with the new sewer pipes being laid in sections. Once installed, another crew will come in to repair the road. Once they are completed, sewer work begins on the next section.
The idea is to have as little impact as possible on the neighbors in the area, Caswell said. And for the most part, he said neighbors have been very understanding.
“We don’t want to impact the neighborhood,” he said. “We want to make a smaller footprint with our work.”
Berry said the crews so far have worked efficiently and not created any issues for the neighborhood.
"They’re doing their best to keep traffic moving. Considering the scope of the project, they’re doing a good job of that," he said. "We’ll see how they put everything back together."