Neighborhood Meeting on Lake Levels

Neighbors Gather to Discuss Lakefront Protection

More than 300 people packed Loyola University’s Galvin Auditorium to talk about problems arising from historically high lake levels. The meeting, held Monday, October 21, was hosted by Aldermen Harry Osterman (48th) and Maria Hadden (49th) and featured experts from city and federal agencies. The primary focus was on public safety as winter weather approaches. Many people in the audience remembered when lake levels were this high in the late 1980s and storms flooded Sheridan Road and Lake Shore Drive, endangering pedestrians, motorists and lakefront properties.

The good news is that the city is better prepared this time. Already, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) has placed more than a mile of concrete “Jersey” barriers along areas vulnerable to flooding to help repel high waves. The city has sandbags ready for deployment as well as water pumps obtained from the Department of Homeland Security. The response to such emergencies will be coordinated through Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC).

The long term solutions, however, are still elusive and will be expensive. For example, adding another eight miles of breakwater barriers along Chicago’s coast would cost around half a billion dollars today. Several people asked who has responsibility for revetments, breakwaters and other coastal protection measures. In the late 1980s, the Army Corps of Engineers did the majority of the work, then passed the responsibilities for upkeep to the Chicago Park District. However, the programs and agreements in place 30 years ago have long since expired. Alderman Osterman noted than no city department “has a golden chunk of money in our jurisdiction to pay for this.” Developing a plan and executing it will cost billions of dollars and require many years. Despite that dire forecast, the problem has become a high priority and has the attention of the Chicago Park District, state legislators, CDOT, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, all of whom were represented on the panel Monday night. Coordination among these groups is ongoing and more public meetings are planned. For a more detailed look at the meeting, check out this story from Block Club Chicago.