A local community’s plans for Lake Calumet in southeast Chicago are facing a new challenge. In the last issue of Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat News, we reported that several community groups had partnered with local environmental organizations to form a coalition supporting an ecologically sound vision for the lake’s future. Soon after publication of that article, Lake Calumet, the only inland lake in Illinois hydrologically connected to Lake Michigan, became a target for, marina development.
The Lake Michigan Federation became aware in early May that the Illinois International Port District (IIPD), the state agency that controls the Lake Calumet shoreline, had requested a “letter of permission” (LOP) from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) for construction of a new 1000-slip powerboat marina. IIPD is required to have a permit under Section 10 of the federal Rivers and Harbors Act to perform any marina construction. Standard procedure for obtaining this permit calls for an application to the Corps followed by a public comment period. The LOP, if issued, would allow the work to begin without IIPD being subjected to public scrutiny under the individual permit application process.
The problem with IIPD’s request is that the LOP process can only be used if the proposed work “would not have significant individual and cumulative impacts on environmental values, and should encounter no appreciable opposition” [Code of Federal Regulations 33, Part 325]. The Federation and its partner groups in the coalition quickly determined that their presence in the Calumet region, supported by thousands of members, was enough to mount an appreciable opposition to the project. In addition, strong arguments can be made that the cumulative impacts of a 1000-slip marina for powerboats on migratory bird habitat, fish habitat, and water quality will indeed be significant.
Coalition partners and organizational members flooded the Chicago District Corps office with queries as to why they were being shut out of this process. In addition, coalition members with contacts in Chicago offices of state and federal agencies called and asked these offices to put pressure on the Corps to deny the LOP.
While the Corps has not made a final decision, it appears that local efforts have had a significant impact. Perhaps even more importantly, the City of Chicago’s Department of Environment, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency all requested that the Corps deny the LOP and move forward with the individual permit process subject to full public review.
IIPD is attempting to avoid public involvement in construction of this marina. As more is discovered about this project, it has become apparent that IIPD has a comprehensive plan for development of the Lake Calumet shoreline that does not end with the proposed marina. This is all the more reason for the process to be open to the public. For now, citizens of the region remain mobilized to safeguard this resource.