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SE Side wants to benefit from USX development

With nearly $100 million in TIF funds being spent on the first phase of a massive development on the south lakefront, a community summit on Saturday will discuss strategies to win a community benefits agreement for the project.

The Coalition for a Lakeside CBA meets Saturday, September 7, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 3200 E. 91st.

Jennifer Epps-Addison of the Partnership for Working Families will discuss how community benefits agreements (CBAs) across the country have won opportunities for local workers and communities, and Tom Tresser of CivicLab will present an analysis of all TIFs in three local wards.

The Coalition will also release results of a new survey of Southeast Side residents.

Site developer McCaffrey Interests has been granted $96 million in TIF support from the city for the first phase of a vast new redevelopment of the former site of US Steel’s South Works (USX) plant, dubbed Chicago Lakeside.  Ultimately McCaffrey plans over 13,000 units of housing, 17.5 million square feet of retail, 125 acres of parks and a 1,500-slip marina.

The TIF subsidy will cover one-fourth of development costs for the first phase of the project, which will include 1 million square feet of retail and restaurants and 848 units of housing.  The first phase is planned for the northwest corner of the 530-acre site, which runs south from 79th Street along the lakefront to the Calumet River.

Concerns about displacement

A major concern is that development could cause displacement in the adjoining area, as it has in other communities, with property tax increases as home values rise forcing longtime residents to leave, said Amelia NietoGomez of the Alliance of the South East, an organizer of the coalition.

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Video: Firing range in Calumet wetlands

Take two minutes and watch this video on the police firing range now planned next to sensitive Calumet area wetlands.  It’s by poet and activist Acie Cargill, and it’s an effective piece of grassroots advocacy.

If you’ve been following the issue through written descriptions here or elsewhere, it will give a good picture of  the area being impacted; if you haven’t been following the issue, you’re likely to get interested.

(I like Acie’s rendition of Can’t Stop Loving You, too; nice to see folks out dancing.)

In Millennium Reserve, a firing range?

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Gun range foes could get wildlife survey

[UPDATE 4-21 -- The MWRD board voted 9-to-0 this morning to request a wildlife study for the area including the land proposed for a police firing range.]

Environmental activists opposing construction of a police firing range on the Southeast Side could get approval for a long-requested wildlife study at a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District meeting tomorrow.

The MWRD board will vote Thursday morning (April 21) on a motion to request a wildlife study by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources on a140-acre area south of 134th, said commissioner Debra Shore.

Last year the board gave preliminary approval to a proposal to lease a portion of the area to the City of Chicago for construction of an outdoor firing range for use by Chicago and area police officers.

Local environmental groups argued that the gun range would disturb migratory birds in wetlands on the MWRD land and north of it in Hegewisch Marsh, where the city planned a major nature center.   The areas are part of the Calumet Open Space Reserve designated by the city several years ago.  Two ponds on the MWRD property are designated as National Wetlands.

The wildlife study would be “just a matter of due diligence on our part as the landowner,” said Shore.

It would also be “a big victory for the rank and file, for grassroots people,” said Carolyn Marsh, conservation chair of the Chicago Audubon Society.  “I wish it weren’t such a struggle to get what is just common sense.”

Marsh has been persistently pressing for a wildlife survey since she accompanied biologists from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources on a walk-through of the area requested by the Southeast Environmental Task Force last summer.

IDNR reported it was “unable to determine” whether state protected species might be nesting in the area, and gave its approval to the project.  But nests of two significant though unprotected species, great egrets and great blue herons, were seen in trees nearby.

“When I saw those birds I said by gosh, we’re going to fight this,” Marsh said.

She kept digging and found an IDNR survey which found 139 nests of the endangered black crowned night heron on the site in 1985 – which had failed to turn up in an IDNR data base search for evidence of endangered species.

The Audubon Society maintains that even without evidence of endangered species, construction and operation of a firing range would violate the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by harassing the egrets and blue herons.

“That’s how species become endangered, because we’re continually encroaching on their habitat,” said Peggy Salazar, executive director of SETF.

SETF maintains the firing range is inappropriate in the open space reserve, which the city has recognized as the most significant wetland and natural area in the city.

MWRD still has to give final approval to the project after the city finalizes the plan and the City Council votes on it, Shore said.

Call on Quinn to veto coal-gas subsidy

Hundreds of Southeast Side residents joined by local health and environmental groups will call on Governor Quinn to veto a bill providing ratepayer subsidies for a proposed coal gasification plant.

The bill, passed by the General Assembly in December with little public notice, would require natural gas utilities to buy from a $3 billion coal gasification plant – at nearly double the market rate – for the next 30 years. A New York company has proposed building the plant on the site of a shuttered steel mill at 114th and Burley.

The area has been struggling to overcome a legacy of polluting industries and to implement a city open space plan that calls for 4,000 acres dedicated to recreation and wildlife habitat.  (For background see previous post.)

Hundreds of residents will circle the Thompson Building, 100 W. Randolph, starting at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow (Wednesday, March 9) and rally at 11:30.  At noon a delegation of children and residents will deliver hundreds of post cards to Governor Quinn calling on him to veto the bill.

A coal-gas plant – and more – for Southeast Side

Residents of the Southeast Side only learned about a proposed coal gasification plant when a bill providing ratepayer subsidies for the project was introduced — and quickly passed — in the state legislature’s recent lame duck session.

Though State Senator Donne Trotter (17th District) sponsored the bill, “none of our representatives informed us of this,” said Peggy Salazar of the Southeast Environmental Task Force.

Along with environmental and health groups, SETF is holding a town hall meeting on the proposal – Thursday, January 27, 6:30 p.m. at The Zone, 11731 S. Avenue O – because “the community needs to be informed,” she said.

It’s not the first time a project has snuck up on residents.  Last year a plan to build a police firing range in a sensitive natural area was discovered at the last minute.

The town hall will discuss possible environmental and health impacts of coal gasification and review other existing pollution sources and other new projects being proposed in the community.  It’s cosponsored by the Sierra Club, Respiratory Health Association, Calumet Ecological Park Association, and Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.

The Sierra Club has opposed the proposal, arguing that while coal gasification is cleaner than burning coal, it’s far dirtier than natural gas – and that the ratepayer subsidy would mean annual hikes of as much as $100 in heating bills.  The group points to ratepayer protections and competitive bidding in the state’s renewable energy program as a better model.

There are also concerns specific to the community’s residents.  “They’ll be processing coal and pet coke [carbon waste from oil refineries], and our experience is when they store coal and pet coke, we have coal dust,” Salazar said.  “People’s homes get covered in coal dust – and that means people are also breathing it in.”

In addition, she points to the environmental costs of mining coal, including destruction of downstate farmland and water quality.

As the Tribune recently reported, Leucadia National Corp. of New York wants to build the $3 billion plant on the site of a shuttered steel plant at 11400 S. Burley.  The deal still hinges on Governor Quinn’s approval of Trotter’s bill – which would require Illinois utilities to pruchase synthetic gas from the plant for 30 years – and on approval by the Illinois Pollution Control Board for transfer of pollution credits attached to the old steel facility to Leukadia.  Illinois EPA has repeatedly opposed such a transfer.

For Salazar, there’s a larger question:  “Why do we keep getting all the dirty industry?”

Along with the Calumet Ecological Park Assocation and others, SETF has worked to shut down landfills and reclaim natural areas in a neighborhood that’s hosted polluting industries for a century.  The area includes Chicago’s largest lakes (Calumet and Wolf) amidst the largest and most ecologically significant wetlands in the Midwest, with a remarkable diversity of plant and animal life, including endangered and threatened species.

In 2002 the Chicago Plan Commission adopted a Calumet Land Use Plan which identified 1,000 acres for industrial development and 4,000 acres for recreation and natural habitat.  The Ford Calumet Environmental Center is planned for the Hegewisch Marsh south and west of 130th and Torrence, an area the city is rehabilitating.

“We know the area is zoned industrial, but we’d like to see some clean industry,” Salazar said.

Now, in addition to the coal gas plant and the firing range, a liquid asphalt facility is being planned for 106th Street and a commercial composting facility for 122nd and Carondolet, a few blocks from homes in Hegewisch.

“We’re environmentalists, we support composting, but do we want it so close to residential areas?”  Salazar said.  She’s heard reports of problems with odors at similar facilities, and says Chicago Composts LLC hasn’t been forthcoming with information on carbon emissions.  (A new law exempts commercial composters from emissions standards.)

“The Southeast Side still gets the garbage,” she said.  “It’s in a prettier package, but it’s still garbage coming our way.”

Migratory bird habitat threatened by firing range plan

Environmental groups are opposing a Chicago Police Department plan to build a firing range in a Southeast Side wetland area that’s a habitat for rare migratory birds.

The first and possibly last public hearing in the community on the subject – announced just four days ago – takes place at noon tomorrow (Saturday, October 30) at the UAW Hall at 13600 S. Torrence.

Despite having recommended that the area remain as open space in the Calumet Land Use Plan, the city is seeking a 39-year, $10-a-year lease from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District for the 33-acre site, located in a larger area owned by the district along the Little Calumet River and south of 134th Street.

Two ponds in the MWRD property, the O’Brien Lock Marsh and Whitford Pond, are designated as National Wetlands by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Judith Lihota, president of the Calumet Ecological Park Association.  The shooting range would be right next to Whitford Pond and nearby the site where Ford is planning to build an environmental center.

The range would have capacity for 40 shooters and be operated from 8 a.m.  to 8 p.m., according to a noise study done for the city.

On a recent tour of the area with city and state officials, Lihota saw blue herons and white egrets.  The shooting will certainly drive off the birds, further reducing limited nesting options for migratory and wetland birds in the area, she said.

There are many abandoned industrial properties where a shooting range could be sited without disturbing sensitive wildlife areas, according to the Southeast Environmental Task Force in a blog post.

Residents learned of the plan when the proposal appeared on an MWRD board agenda in June, Lihota said.  She said the city and police department have refused requests to do a wildlife study of the area they want to take over.

MWRD is expected to vote on the proposal November 4.

Chicagoland’s favorite places

What Makes Your Place Great? That’s the name of a contest inviting area residents to reveal their favorite undiscovered public spaces. It’s part of a larger project promoting “placemaking” and the importance of lively neighborhoods and inviting public spaces.

Sponsored by the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Chicago Architecture Foundation, the contest invites residents to submit a photo or video of their favorite local place along with a brief description of what it means to them and how it contributes to their community.

Prizes include passes to area cultural institutions – and winners’ spots may end up on a special CAF tour this fall.

Bush Community Garden of Hope

It’s the second year of the contest.Last year 8,000 people voted online for 51 entrants.

Among the 2009 winners was the Bush community garden in South Chicago (Newstips covered the garden’s first season in 2004).

Beyond showcasing special places, the goal is “to help people understand what goes into creating and sustaining great places in communities and how those places contribute to a healthy region,” said Mandy Burrell Booth of MPC.

“Sure, great places are fun to visit,” she said. “But they also can make communities more economically vibrant, connect neighbors, reduce stress, improve safety, and keep people healthier by giving them someplace they can walk to.”

Through its Placemaking Chicago initiative, MPC is training planners from local agencies. “In some ways, placemaking turns traditional community planning on its head,” said Burrell. “Instead of starting with a budget item or a project list, it starts with people’s vision for their places.”

In 2007, MPC and the Project for Public Spaces published a Guide to Neighborhood Placemaking in Chicago. It includes a step-by-step guide, a list of local resources, and seven case studies, ranging from the Bloomingdale Trail to the drum circle at the 63rd Street beach.

The group is also partnering with the Wicker Park Bucktown Special Service Area to “activate” the Polish Triangle, where Division, Milwaukee, and Ashland meet.

Last year they held an online survey and a two-day open house, where residents could help develop ideas for the space.  Currently WPB is sponsoring a public art project for local artists to present their ideas, which will be installed in vacant storefronts in the area.

Photo by Maureen Kelleher from NCP, Southeast Chicago goes from steel to green.



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