By Joel Brammeier
Citizens on Chicago’s southeast side are gearing up for restoration of a river corridor in the heart of one of the Midwest’s most heavily industrialized zones.
Much of the six-mile long Calumet River has been channelized using steel sheetwall and poured concrete, a far cry from its days as a home to plentiful sturgeon and yellow perch in the 19th century. Industrial landowners use the riverbank for port operations, while its currents are governed by a combination of treated sewage flow and the natural water level of Lake Michigan.
By partnering with local business Carmeuse Lime and Beemsterboer Slag and Ballast, the Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF) has opened a door to revitalization of landscapes near the rivers edge. These landowners control properties approximately two miles from Lake Michigan at a truck route crossing on either side of the Calumet River.
Building on a community visioning session under SETF’s “Good Neighbor Dialogues”with industrial partners, a site cleanup held in Spring 2005 has set the stage for site restoration. SETF has now secured nearly $20,000 in donated materials and services.
Besides reestablishing native plant species in developed areas and reducing stormwater contaminants entering drains and the Calumet River itself, this project is being used to promote conservation awareness among minority residents. Having translators present at community planning sessions has provided Spanish-speaking neighbors an opportunity to direct the use of preferred native species and learn about the value of restoring biodiversity. SETF used a combination of real-time translation and visual communications to ensure full community participation.
Given the volume of industrial property potentially available to serve as buffer for the Calumet River, a successful demonstration of partnerships for conservation between corporations, civic groups, neighbors, and chambers of commerce should promote duplication throughout the southeast side.
For more information, contact Aaron Rosinski of the Southeast Environmental Task Force at 773-646-0436. You can read more about the Task Force’s work on the Calumet River corridor at www.southeastenvironmental.org