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At their May 18 meeting, the Commissioners of the Board of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) rejected the request by the Cook County Highway Department for an easement to construct a road through Evanston’s Isabella Woods for a private development in Wilmette.

On May 15, Evanston’s City Council unanimously approved a resolution objecting to the request for the easement. Isabella Woods is a tiny oak forest with several 200-year-old trees, that serves as a wildlife habitat and a diversion for storm-water. MWRD owns the property, which has been leased – along with other property along the North Shore Channel in Evanston – to the City of Evanston since 1966. The lease is set to expire in about 15 years.

The Keefe Family Trust (“Keefe), which owns landlocked property in Wilmette, had sought the City’s permission for an easement, so there would be ingress and egress from the property for a residential development proposed for the property. That request having been rejected, Keefe enlisted the aid of the Cook County Highway Department to request the easement to build a road. Although the County would build the road, the construction and maintenance costs would reportedly be absorbed by the property owner.

About a dozen people attended the May 18 Board meeting to show their opposition to the easement, said City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz.

Deputy City Attorney Michelle Masoncup and Seventh Ward Alderman Eleanor Revelle testified about why they felt the Board should reject the request for the easement. “I spoke on behalf of the residents of Evanston,” Ald. Revelle told the RoundTable. “I talked about receiving an outpouring of concern form residents of Evanston – not just in the Seventh Ward,” she said. “I talked about their passion for keeping the woods as untouched as possible.”

Leslie Shad, Special Adviser to the Board of Directors at the National Wildlife Federation, presented a petition with 300 signatures opposing the request for the easement.

The Board spent about two hours in executive session, Ald. Revelle said. She said she assumed the Commissioners were talking about the risks and possibilities of a lawsuit. MWRD had recently paid $40 million for having denied an easement.

“Ultimately the Commissioners agreed that it was most important that they focus on their purpose of protecting our waterways and of storm-water management,” Ald. Revelle said. She also said she had not expected that Evanston would prevail. “I hadn’t expected a majority – let alone a unanimous vote,” she said.

Mr. Bobkiewicz said the vote was “great news for Evanston and great news for the public process.”