Conservationists say they were “blindsided” when Mayor Emanuel resurrected a proposal to build a police firing range on the Southeast Side, just days after he joined in announcing the area would be part of a massive Millennium Reserve  open space project.
The 33-acre firing range site is in “the heart” of what’s being called the Calumet Core, slated for the first phase of environmental renovation and trail-building under the Millennium Reserve, said Carolyn Marsh of the Chicago Audubon Society .
“It’s sad that our politicians, and particularly our new mayor, seem to be hypocritical on this issue,” Marsh said.
Days after the December 9 Millennium Reserve announcement, Emanuel requested the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to take up a dormant proposal to lease the site to the city.
At the district’s December 15 meeting, Commissioner Debra Shore moved to defer the motion for a month. The MWRD board is scheduled to consider the proposal at its meeting Thursday, January 5.
Environmental groups are calling on the MWRD commissioners to vote down the proposal.
In April, the MWRD board requested a wildlife survey  of the site by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and a survey in May identified six Black Crowned Night Herons , an endangered species in Illinois, among dozens of species of birds. But since no nests were found, IDNR registered no objections to the project.
The survey notes that measuring the impact of noise on wildlife at the site would require a long-term, specialized study.
In its annual Christmas bird count, Chicago Audubon noted two Bald Eagles not far from the proposed firing range site, Marsh said.
“Chicago Audubon has been fighting for 30 years for this area to be a mecca of connecting wetlands for wildlife, and instead we keep threatening their habitats,” she said.
The firing range site is in a 140-acre section owned by MWRD, along the Calumet River and South of 134th Street. It’s adjacent to the O’Brien Lock Marsh and Whitford Pond and close by Hegewisch Marsh.
Once a wetland known as Dutchman’s Slough, it was dug up during the Deep Tunnel project and filled in with limestone, but MWRD was expected to restore the wetland, said Tom Shepherd of the Southeast Environmental Task Force .
Local residents will be “reminding the MWRD commissioners of their obligation to restore this parcel to its original condition,” he said.
The area should be restored with native wetlands plants so it will function as a filter for contaminated runoff from surrounding landfills which could reach the Calumet River and Lake Michigan, said Judith Lihota of the Calmuet Ecological Park Association .
And firing assault weapons on a constant basis will surely drive off wildlife, robbing them of scarce habitat and undermining the purpose of the trails being built under the Millennium Reserve project, she said.
Widely expanded training functions at the site do not seem to be out of the question, Shepherd said. He said city officials have been vague when residents sought to pin them down on this.
In Altgeld Gardens to the west of the site, Cheryl Johnson of People for Community Recovery  shares other residents’ environmental concerns, but she also has safety concerns.
“No one came to us to let us know that they would be building this type of facility in our area without any public comment,” she said. “It’s just disrespecting us as residents of the city.”
“I’d like to ask the mayor, would you want something like that in your neighborhood?” she said.