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Emanuel: Planned pipeline aims to pull plug on Northwest Side flooding

Alderman Marge Laurino Mayor Rahm Emanuel  Senator IrI. SilversteCongressman Michael Quigley other elected officials made an announcement regarding flooding

Alderman Marge Laurino, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Senator Ira I. Silverstein and Congressman Michael Quigley, and other elected officials made an announcement regarding flooding in Albany Park and an extensive tunnel project in Albany Park. Photographed at Eugene Field Park on Sunday, April 21, 2013. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times.

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Updated: May 23, 2013 6:36AM

Days after heavy rains swamped hundreds of homes in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood leaving many without power and gas, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the construction of a $55 million underground pipeline he says will alleviate future flooding.

The one-mile tunnel underneath Foster Avenue will go east from Eugene Field Park to the North Shore Channel. Construction of the Northwest Side pipeline may begin as early as the beginning of next year.

City officials said that in the event of a flood, the pipeline would move excess water from the north branch of the Chicago River into the North Shore Channel, a drainage canal that runs from the Chicago River north to Wilmette in Lake Michigan.

On Thursday, a deluge of rain deposited more than five-and-a-half inches of water at O’Hare Airport, flooding at least 1,200 Chicago basements and thousands of suburban homes.

“There’s not a sewer system in the world that can handle water when it is coming in like that,” Chicago’s Water Management Commissioner Thomas Powers said.

The flooding caused road closures, cancellation of 630 flights at O’Hare and Midway Airports, and CTA bus rerouting. Albany Park was hit especially hard, where 639 gas meters went out due to the flooding, according to People’s Gas spokeswoman Jennifer Block. Twenty gas meters in the area remained out as of Sunday afternoon.

Standing in front of a line of sandbags at Eugene Field Park on Sunday, Emanuel criticized the city’s plan following the 2008 flood to install new marshland to help capture excess water.

“It clearly did not work to the expectations we had,” Emanuel said. “While it helped, it did not solve the problem.”

Emanuel said the pipeline was being built to address climate change, which he called, “the new normal.”

Money for the project will come from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, the city, and from the state and federal government, Emanuel said. The new pipeline has been in the planning stages for about a year.

Dan Burke, chief engineer at the Chicago Department of Transportation, said the new pipeline will be capable of transferring up to 2,100 cubic feet per second of water. He said the North Shore Channel will have “plenty of capacity,” to hold additional flood water.

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