Lincoln-Lansing Drainage District: Little known agency a big player in local flood control

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Ditches like this one along Burnham Avenue prevent flooding in the subdivisions that have been built on what was once farmland. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
People in the Lincoln-Lansing Drainage District receive a $2 bill each year. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
by Bob Bong

SAUK VILLAGE, Ill. (March 3, 2020) – In a few weeks, residents of Sauk Village, Lynwood, and parts of Lansing will receive a postcard in the mail asking for their annual assessment from the Lincoln-Lansing Drainage District.

Many others, who have never heard of the Lincoln-Lansing Drainage District, will simply throw it away believing it’s a scam of some sort.

“People throw the bill away because they don’t what it’s about,” said Jeff Morden, of Sauk Village, one of two district commissioners, who was appointed to a three-year term last April.

“When I was a Sauk Village trustee, we would get calls about the $2 assessment postcard in the mail,” he said.

“It’s not hard to find someone who hasn’t paid their assessment,” said Harry Jongsma, the other commissioner, who has been with the district since the 1980s.

“They find out about it whenever they try to sell the property or get a home equity loan and the title company tells them there’s a lien on the property from the district,” said Jongsma.

“Last year, we had a family find out they had to pay $178 in arrears,” he said. “The father died, and when the family tried to sell the property, they found out the family had never paid any of the assessments.”
Making the land farmable

Draining the farmland

The ditches were created in the 1920s, when the 12,000 acres that make up the district were primarily farmland. Mostly underwater farmland.

The ditches were created in the 1920s, when the 12,000 acres that make up the district were primarily farmland. The original maps still exist, and the commissioners have access to poster-sized copies of the originals. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

“It was good land,” said Jongsma. “But it was under water for most of the year. Farmers would let their cattle wade through the water and feed on the grass on the high ground.”

“Sixty farmers who owned the land got together and actually agreed to do something about making the land farmable,” Jongsma explained.

“An engineer conducted a topographical survey and determined where ditches should go to drain the land,” he said. The water is funneled to North Creek and then into the Little Calumet River.

The inscription on the survey plot reads: “We, Ashdown, Williams, & Co, do hereby certify that we have compiled the plot of the Lincoln-Lansing Drainage District hereon drawn and that we have surveyed and designed the proposed ditches and tile drains as shown thereon and that said plot correctly represents the boundaries of the said district, the lands embraced therein and the locations of the said ditches and tile drains as designed to be laid out therein, said plot being on three sheets numbered 1, 2, and 3. Dated this 15th day of March AD 1924, Ashdown, Williams, & Company, EH Ashdown, Engineer”

About 27 miles of ditches were built by the farmers using teams of horses and a small plow that went down about 3 feet. Farmers then built their own ditches and lined them with field tiles that directed the water into the main ditches.

Over the winter, steam shovels were brought in, and the ditches were deepened to 10 feet and made 20 feet wide.

“Once the land was drained, the farmers formed a charter in 1926 and went to Springfield to get the Legislature to create a district. They were allowed to charge people living within the district a $2 annual assessment for maintenance,” said Jongsma.

From farms to subdivisions

In the 1950s, the land started to change from farms to subdivisions.

“Sauk Village, Lynwood, and south Lansing all started to see houses as city people began moving into the suburbs,” said Jongsma. “Houses were built without much thought given to the drainage ditch easements. Houses make it hard to maintain the ditches. Who wants heavy equipment running through your yard to maintain a ditch?

“That’s what happens when you mix agriculture and subdivisions,” he said.

Maintenance now falls mostly to the property owner with a ditch.

Morden said he has been going to property owners and explaining what the district is about and the need to keep the ditches clean.

“Most property owners I’ve talked with have been receptive to cleaning up the ditches,” he said.

Jongsma said the district basically keeps the ditches clear of debris, which can include downed trees and junk people throw away.

“We have a big problem with old tires that people just throw into the ditches,” he said.

Understanding the ditches

Morden said he wants to increase awareness of the ditch system and its importance to all of the thousands of people living within the drainage district.

“Without the ditches, Sauk Village homes would be flooded every time it rains,” said Morden. “The ditches take away the storm water.”

Ditches like this one along Burnham Avenue prevent flooding in the subdivisions that have been built on what was once farmland. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

He said he plans to conduct town hall meetings and to hold coffees with residents. He also wants the drainage district to have a presence on social media.

Lansing, Sauk Village, and Lynwood are not the only parts of the state formed from drained land. The state says there are more than 800 drainage districts in Illinois.

Unless an assessment increase is approved by voters, the fee is $2 across the state.

Understanding the districts

Districts normally have three commissioners. Lincoln-Lansing at present has only two, and neither Morden or Jongsma is paid.

“Nobody wants to do this without getting paid,” said Jongsma.

“You have to want to help the community,” said Morden. “You need a public service type of mentality.”

The commissioners are appointed by the Cook County Board. If interested, the application process starts with local Cook County Commissioner Donna Miller. Candidates must be a resident of Illinois and own property within the district boundaries.

The Lincoln-Lansing district includes all of Lynwood, Sauk Village except for the Deer Creek neighborhood, and Lansing roughly from the state line to Stony Island Avenue and south of 186th Street.

Cameron Davis from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District spoke at the February 4 meeting of the Lincoln-Lansing Drainage District commissioners. Davis appreciates the partnership the two agencies have. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
The district holds an annual meeting and files an annual financial report with a Cook County Circuit Court judge. “We are not affiliated with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District,” said Jongsma.

Over the years, there have been attempts to merge the Lincoln-Lansing Drainage District with the MWRD.

“They proposed a merger one year and planned to increase the assessment to $197,” said Jongsma. “It died when I said the increased money would have to be spent within the district.”

Jongsma does believe something will have to change in the future.

“We’re surviving,” he said. “But we have no money to burn.

“It can’t go on at $2 per year.”

For more information on the Lincoln-Lansing Drainage District, contact either of the commissioners:
• Harry Jongsma at 708-259-4156
• Jeff Morden at 708-774-6053

1 COMMENT

  1. And when was the last time North Creek was cleaned out? 202nd Street and Burnham Avenue specifically? There are so many dead trees and trash in that ditch! The village of lynwood won’t cut down the dead trees because its state property., but they’ll mow once a year. Please send someone out to assess this situation!?!

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