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Ill. Green Infrastructure Grant dos, don'ts, and deadlines

Last week MPC held two public workshops — one in Chicago, one in Elgin — on the Ill. Environmental Protection Agency's (IEPA) Illinois Green Infrastructure Grant Program for Stormwater Management (IGIG).  More than 150 people came out to hear directly from IEPA about what changes to expect from last year's application (answer, none), and to learn what general characteristics were consistent across the strongest and weakest of last year's round of applications.  IEPA's Christine Davis presented the "good, bad, and ugly" in substantial detail, and I've summarized  each here.

Good:

  • The affected waterway was clearly identified, and the connection between the proposed project and the waterway was well described.
  • The green infrastructure project in question was part of the applicant's larger stormwater and sustainability vision, with that context fully described.
  • IGIG funding was being used to leverage other financial or in-kind resources, such as from foundation giving, property owner contributions, or volunteer labor (for example, a student group maintaining a schoolyard rain garden).
  • There was a well-documented 10-year operations and maintenance plan. 

Bad/ugly:

  • The application didn't contain a sufficient explanation of why the IGIG funding was necessary for the project to be completed, or how the IGIG would accelerate completion.
  • There were disconnects between the kind of work being proposed and the amount of marketing and education required to do it.  Davis reference a proposal for dissemination and installation of 1,000 rain barrels — a rather sizable task with lots of property owners — that budgeted only two hours for marketing.
  • The application focused only on stormwater volume reduction, leaving out water quality benefits, or vice versa.
  • Things like high-efficiency light bulbs, paint for parking lots, and other ineligible expenses were included in the budget.  IGIG funding is for improved water quality and reduced volumes of stormwater runoff.

To demonstrate the "good," these workshops also featured presentations from four of the 14 IGIG projects that were funded this year: Aurora, the Beverly Area Planning Association (Chicago), Elgin, and the 35th Ward of Chicago (which MPC is assisting on).

The City of Aurora received $69,486 for the Downer Place Bio-infiltration Project, which will remove a few unused lanes of traffic in the heart of downtown in order to create rain gardens in conjunction with the community's vision for an improved pedestrian experience.  My personal assessment of the strengths of this project are the very well explained connections between the stormwater retention and infiltration benefits of the garden with water quality in the Fox River, which is literally a stone's throw away (Aurora's downtown is on island in the middle of the river). Moreover, the garden was part of the community's broader sustainability vision, and IEPA wanted to be a part of that.

Up the river in Elgin, the City received one of the largest 2011 IGG awards — $634,000 for the Lord Street Basin CSO Green Infrastructure Retrofit. Having identified combined sewer overflows as a major source of contamination in the Fox River, Elgin laid out a sewershed-based, distributed approach to reducing the volume of stormwater runoff entering the combined sewer systems.  City leaders will work with local residents to install, operate and manage combination of permeable alleys, rain gardens, bioretention basins, and other best management practices (BMP). The strengths of the Elgin proposal were the tight connection between this project and the city's broader sustainability goals, but also consistency with local watershed plans and the vision of the Fox River Study Group. Moreover, there was a clear plan for cultivating resident-driven management and upkeep of many of the BMPs.

Similarly, the Milwaukee Avenue Green Development Corridor, through a $200,000 IGIG award to Chicago's 35th Ward (managed by our team here at MPC), will distribute sub-grants to property owners along a geographically-specified stretch of Milwaukee Ave. in the Logan Square neighborhood.  Property owners will have to cover at least 25% of project costs, and develop an ongoing operations and management plan, while IEPA covers the rest.  The Chicago Community Loan Fund is working with us to help property owners that need funding upfront.  At the same time, the Ward office will work with the Chicago Dept. of Transportation to install several more blocks of permeable alleys (with non-IGIG funds), and we'll work with the City's Sustainable Backyard Program and Downspout Disconnection program to coordinate activities.  Coincidentally, a group called the Chicago Rarities Orchard Project is going to set up shop right in the middle of the target corridor, and will be taking big chunks of pavement in the process.

Similarly, on Chicago's south side, the Beverly Area Planning Association (BAPA) received $72,273 for a Green Parking Lot and Rain Garden to improve infiltration at the intersection of 111th St. and Longwood Dr.  BAPA's offices host an array of meetings and events, meaning the project will have high visibility, which is a strength in IEPA's eyes.  Moreover, the consulting engineer, Conservation Design Forum, very clearly articulated the project's impact on the receiving sewer system.

The application deadline for this year's IGIG program is Dec. 15, 2011, and IEPA does not take kindly to late submissions.  If you submitted an application last year and were rejected, IEPA encourages you to contact them with questions as to what you could change, tighten up, delete, and otherwise improve.  The successful projects from last year's round of funding were well conceived, data-driven, and part of larger sustainability efforts.  Keep that in mind as you apply.  Good luck!

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