Generator location offers Ottawa high level of savings

Sometimes stubbornness really pays off.

For Ottawa, the savings was millions of dollars, according to Ron Davis, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency’s state hazard mitigation officer.

“I’m the SHMO,” Davis likes to joke.

The stubbornness was on the part of Ottawa Building Official Mike Sutfin, and it took place years ago when a backup generator was going to be installed for Ottawa’s sewage treatment plant, Davis recounted last week at a meeting of state Sen. Sue Rezin’s Illinois Valley Flood Resiliency Alliance.

There are a lot of angles to flood mitigation, Davis said.

“But too often when we talk mitigation, we mostly talk about funds,” he said.

But there are other important factors.

“The thing that’s saving the taxpayers’ money and making the community safer, is the stuff you do on the front end,” Davis told the alliance members. “You guys can really make a difference.”

His favorite case in point is his tale of Sutfin and the backup generator.

“It’s the best example in the state,” Davis said.

“The city was building a new multimillion dollar sewer plant. Mike sees the design — and this is a world-class engineering firm that designed it — and saw they put the backup generator at ground level in the flood plain.

“Mike takes a look at it and he says ‘No way: This isn’t acceptable.’

“He got browbeaten by those guys pretty good,” said Davis. “You know ‘Who are you to tell us what to do?’

“But Mike held his ground, and he said, ‘No way; you’re not going to build unless its three feet above the base flood elevation.’ So they build it on a pedestal about six feet in the air.”

Then came the huge flood of 2013, Davis recalled.

“I go out to the sewer plant with Mike, and there’s the waterline about four feet up on this thing.

“If Mike had not held his ground, that generator would have been totally submerged, and the city would have lost the whole sewer plant.

“I asked Mike how much it cost to build this concrete stand and he said five to ten thousand dollars.

“Mike did it and he saved the town millions of dollars,” said Davis.

Sutfin said not only did the elevated generator save the city plenty of money, it also prevented plenty of raw sewage from going straight into the Illinois River.

Right now the only evidence of the flood’s high water mark on the concrete generator stand is a dark line a little more than half way up.

Pretty soon that will change, Sutfin said.

Ottawa is in line to participate in FEMA’s High Water Mark Initiative.

As part of that project, signs showing past high water marks will be posted in prominent places throughout the city — including the concrete backup generator stand.

“It will help make us more flood aware,” Sutfin said.