Report from Eastlake Terrace: Rising Lake Levels Threaten Lakefront – Part 1

By Tom Heineman, Treasurer, RPBG
 


 

Source: Chicago Tribune

This is not the first time the Eastlake Terrace beaches, parks and buildings have been impacted by high lake levels. In 1986, lake levels were at a 100 year high with serious damage to both private and public properties. As of July of this year, the average Lake Michigan-Huron water levels were within a few inches of that 100 year high. This is just after a 100 year low in 2013. Apparently, global climate change and its related extreme weather patterns is impacting our lives in a very direct fashion.

 

The Greater Eastlake Terrace Beaches Park Advisory Council (GET Beaches PAC), was formed in 2016 to address the loss of sand and recurring damage to our seawalls and beaches along Eastlake Terrace. We have had some success focusing attention on our beaches. We have done this through direct pressure from the PAC and the 49th Ward office and particularly through TV news reports on our damaged beaches in 2018 and then again in 2019. Former Alderman Moore exerted pressure to do major park district funded repairs at Juneway and Howard Street beaches during the fall of 2018.

Juneway Beach: April 2018 damage and June 2018 after a major repair – T.H.

Unfortunately, spring storms in 2019 literally destroyed the sea wall and its repairs at Juneway and did serious damage to the Howard Street Beach seawall. Again, we had several TV news reporters come to highlight the damage and enlisted the support of our new Alderwoman Maria Hadden in our efforts to save our parks which now have the worst damage in the 50 years I have lived on Eastlake Terrace. Juneway Beach is now the poster child for the erosion problems threatening the city’s shoreline.

Juneway Beach after summer and fall assault of high waters and frequent storms – T.H.

Apparently, global climate change and its related extreme weather patterns is impacting our lives in a very direct fashion.

The Chicago Park District response to the pressure from the PAC and Alderwoman Hadden was that there would be no additional short term fixes, given the failure of their 2018 repairs last year. Fencing would be installed to clearly warn the public of the danger presented by the damaged seawalls and parklands, but no further short terms repairs would be made in 2019.

The fences have had limited success. There were two drowning victims found off shore at Juneway and Rogers Beaches. Both were apparently homeless men who may have fallen victim to high waves or intoxication or a combination of both. In general, the public has ignored the fences and continues to use the parkland on the lake side of the fences. There are no posted signs indicating dangerous conditions, nor is there any apparent police or park district enforcement related to these fences. Truth be told, neighbors don’t want enforcement and see the fences as a band aide safety solution. They want their green space back.

Juneway Beach is now the poster child for the erosion problems threatening the city’s shoreline.

Two public meetings were recently held to discuss the erosion issues caused by the high lake levels. The first was held the Rogers Park Library and was focused on the lakefront beaches and parks in the 49th ward. Alderwoman Maria Hadden thanked the residents of the ward who had been fighting to get attention to the problems and gave some history of what her office had been doing to address the situation. The Chicago Park District representatives gave a presentation on what happened during the winter storm in 1987 and showed photos of a flooded Lake Shore Drive (below) as well as examples of damage to the shoreline all along the 30 miles of Chicago shoreline.

From Chicago Park District PowerPoint presentation, October 7, 2019

Other than these rock islands and placements along some private buildings (public/private cost sharing), very little was done at the far north and far south sides of the city.

The Park District reviewed the resulting shoreline improvement projects that they, and the Army Corp of Engineers, have made. These include 9.2 miles of shoreline repairs and a massive rebuilding of the seawall between Montrose Beach and Navy Pier. Still slated for repair are portions of the South Side between the Loop and Hyde Park. The total cost of this work was more than $500 million with both federal and local government funding.

In Rogers Park, there were boulder islands placed offshore at the end of several streets to protect CDOT infrastructure as well as along various private buildings. These include several buildings on Eastlake Terrace now owned by Becovic Property management. Other than these rock islands and placements along some private buildings (public/private cost sharing), very little was done at the far north and far south sides of the city.

Alderman Osterman mentioned that this future long term project will require over a billion dollars in additional investment, and will require an honest discussion with residents in the 49th and 50th wards about viable, long term solutions.

A second meeting was held on October 21st, cosponsored by Alderwoman Hadden and Alderman Osterman. Representatives from the Army Corp of Engineers, IDNR, CDOT, and FEMA were there to explain emergency plans and actions in place to deal with potential flooding that may occur with winter storms. They are trying to get ahead of potential storms that occurred in 1987 that resulted in closures along Lake Shore Drive among other impacts. Jersey barriers are now in place in likely areas of flooding and may be supplemented with sand bags as needed. These are in place on Eastlake Terrace beaches, but most residents see these as an eyesore and a band aide. Time will tell.

I plan to do a follow-up article in the winter newsletter about what the future may hold in terms of potential shoreline improvements for the rest of Chicago’s Lakefront (and Rogers Park) that was not addressed in the work already completed. Alderman Osterman mentioned that this future long term project will require over a billion dollars in additional investment, and will require an honest discussion with residents in the 49th and 50th wards about viable, long term solutions. I agree.