Citizens Protecting Evanston’s Shoreline

Citizens Protecting Evanston’s Shoreline

Lake Michigan provides an inestimable quality of life to Evanston and those who visit its approximately two miles of shoreline. Its six beaches— Lighthouse, Northwestern, Clark Street, Dempster-Greenwood, Lee Street, and South Boulevard—attract thousands of people per year. Its lakefront parks offer year-round recreation, with concerts and picnicking in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter. Sailing, paddling, and even diving to the wreck of the George Morley off of Dempster-Greenwood Beach all help make Evanston an attractive destination for people to move or simply visit.

In 2002, the city recommended a study of Evanston’s shoreline to determine the feasibility of a marina, in part to help generate city revenue. The study is taking place in four phases, with each subsequent phase dependent on the successful completion of the previous one: 1) reconnaissance, 2) feasibility, 3) pre-construction, and 4) construction. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the lead federal agency, is compiling results of the reconnaissance study. A location on the border of Chicago and Evanston has been chosen as the site of the marina project under study.

Last August, we reported briefly on the potential construction of the marina. At the time, a new grassroots organization called Citizens for Lakefront Preservation (CLP) had recently formed in response to the marina proposal. Over the last six months, CLP has seen interest in the issue from the community grow exponentially, and has been sponsoring regular petition drives against the marina on weekends in Evanston public areas. CLP has also developed a partnership with another grassroots organization, the 49th Ward Beaches and Parks Advisory Committee, just over the border in Chicago. Most recently, CLP held its second public meeting in Evanston with speakers from environmental organizations and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Because coasts are among the most biologically productive zones in the Great Lakes, and because coasts are attractive for recreation and residential areas, shorelines are under enormous stress. Consequently, any major coastal development proposal— especially marinas—must be conducted with great care.

At a time when bacterial pollution is causing increased beach closures in Evanston, coastal development that leads to the impoundment of water is of concern for lakefront recreation. As water becomes warmer when separated from cooler open lake water, a more accommodating environment for bacteria can be created. CLP is concerned that construction of a marina at the proposed location may: (a) limit circulation of water at Evanston’s South Boulevard Beach, and (b) impact water quality across municipal boundaries at Juneway Terrace Beach, Chicago’s northernmost beach. Besides bacterial pollution, compounds used for boat maintenance, such as paints, anti-corrosives, anti-foulants for hulls, and petroleum hydrocarbons can have impacts on water quality (1).

Additionally, a 600-800-slip marina could cause significant traffic problems. With Sheridan Road already at times severely congested, a marina in the proposed location will likely increase traffic flow from the south and to the north, making pedestrian access to Evanston’s lakefront parks more difficult, a critical determinant of quality-of-life. Increased air pollution as a result of this increased traffic is a virtual certainty. With swimming and wading opportunities in the neighborhood already severely limited, a marina will continue to constrict opportunities for this type of recreation.

Perhaps more important than individual potential impacts is the assessment of cumulative impacts. A rigorous analysis of the ways in which this marina proposal may have secondary and tertiary effects is critical. “A marina…would have a huge environmental impact on the existing shoreline due to sand shifting caused by lake currents impeded by a new pier and breakwater,” said Ramona Maher of CLP. The impact of down-drift erosion on Chicago’s nearby Juneway Terrace Beach and surrounding properties, already a significant issue throughout Illinois,would likely be exacerbated by this structure.

The Lake Michigan Federation is concerned that no formal consideration has been given to other potential sites for a marina despite a suggestion during a meeting with elected officials last year that alternative sites could be open to consideration. For example, the use of the North Shore Channel and the lagoon east of Northwestern University could be evaluated as options. Each of these sites includes their own advantages and disadvantages, such that their own analyses would have to be conducted.

(1) U.S. EPA,“Management Measures for Marinas and Recreational Boating,” located at



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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.