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Bloomington Mayor: Don’t Reach 'Conclusions In Haste' Over Flooding, Sewer Backups

Flooded basement
Sarah Sciba
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Courtesy
A basement flooded with 4 inches of water in the Founders Grove neighborhood of Bloomington.

Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe said he empathizes with residents who have spent weeks cleaning out flooded basements following heavy storms that damaged more than 1,000 homes and businesses in McLean County last month.

Many residents have expressed frustration to the city council about raw sewage backing up into their homes because of combined water and sewer lines, or sump pumps that illegally discharge into sewers instead of a yard.

Mboka Mwilambwe
City of Bloomington
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Mboka Mwilambwe

The council has several meetings planned with public works staff to address the city’s response and how to prevent the problem from resurfacing again. The council plans to discuss the issue at its Committee of the Whole meetings on July 19 and Aug. 16.

“We don’t want to make decisions or reach conclusions in haste,” Mwilambwe said in an interview on WGLT's news magazine show Sound Ideas. “It’s important for us to wait for that assessment.”

The city has started to replace combined water and sewer lines in some neighborhoods. The city plans to have all of them replaced by 2030, according to an agreement the city has reached with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

As for complaints that some higher-ground areas such as Country Club Place got their sewer lines replaced ahead of some lower-lying areas, the mayor said the city prioritizes projects based on “facts we have on the ground."

“I would ask people to withhold judgment until we have further conversation with staff,” Mwilambwe said.

Bulk waste collection

Mwilambwe said public works crews are about two days behind in collecting bulk waste residents have put at the curb following the flooding. Mwilambwe said a lot of residents have used the free one-time option and that has stretched city crews.

“There is an opportunity to get some of their stuff taken care of at no cost, so I think people are taking advantage of that, which results in an increased workload for staff,” Mwilambwe said.

Website and virtual meetings

On another topic, Mwilambwe said he welcomed feedback from several council members, including Sheila Montney and Mollie Ward, who have said the city needs to redesign its website. The discussion came up during Monday’s council meeting when the council adopted a new IT strategic plan.

“The IT staff welcomed the feedback and the challenge which is the reason why you put these strategic plans together,” he said.

Mwiambwe also asked for the public’s patience as it works out technical glitches for its video livestream. The council held its first meeting on Monday at the Government Center after meeting remotely for the last 15 months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We don’t have a ton of people working there,” Mwilambwe said, adding the IT department has about 14 employees. He commended IT staff for the work they have done to expand online accessibility during the pandemic.

Tent city

Mwailambwe said Bloomington police have conducted wellness checks on about 20 people who are living in a tent encampment on the city’s west side where a Panda Express restaurant plans to locate.

“It is private property so unless the people who own the property complain to us as are (they) trespassing, we are not going to do anything,” he said.

The mayor added he’s not indifferent to homelessness. He said he would be open to a city council discussion about how to better help the homeless community in Bloomington.

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