Jackson Park Watch – January 11, 2020

Greetings, all!

In this Update:

  • The Section 106 review process is resuming: what comes next?
  • Underscoring the importance of the Nature Sanctuary

What’s next in the Section 106 review

In mid-December, we noted that the Section 106 review seemed to have stalled.  The Tribune’s article headed “Timetable for Obama Center still uncertain”  made the same point, and that perspective was shared in other media outlets as well.

Perhaps prompted by the questions from reporters, the City recently notified Section 106 consulting parties that the review process would soon resume, and just yesterday, on January 10,  the City announced that the revised draft Assessment of Effects (AOE) report would be released to consulting parties and also posted on the City’s web site on Thursday, January 16.  It also announced that the previously postponed webinar for consulting parties (see below) would take place on Thursday, January 23.

As the Section 106 review resumes, what should happen?

The Section 106 review process is intended to be a dynamic process in which opinions are exchanged and alternatives explored, rather than a bureaucratic exercise.  Veterans of the Section 106 process in other settings report that what should happen next is agreement on the extent and nature of the adverse impacts.  After that should come actual discussion between, on the one hand, the City (the sponsor of the proposed changes, albeit on behalf of the Obama Foundation) and the Federal Highway Administration (the lead federal agency on the Section 106 review), and, on the other hand, the various consulting parties, as to how to “resolve” the adverse impacts via avoidance, minimization, or, failing those, mitigation. 

Participants in the Section 106 review to date know that, as was typical for the City under recent mayors, “public input” has thus far been hampered by a format of large meetings with staged presentations and limited public Q & A.  While interested parties could and did submit written comments, there have been few if any responses to any of them.   As with many of the City’s past meetings on other large-scale projects, the Section 106 sessions for the OPC have appeared designed to enable the City to check off the “public participation” box rather than to actually solicit, consider, and respond to community questions and concerns.  There has been no actual discussion between the City and FHWA, on the one hand, and JPW or any of the consulting parties we work with, on the other.  There has been no exploration of alternate ways to move the project ahead.  

In order for the Section 106 review of the OPC to proceed on to a fruitful conclusion that will allow construction of the OPC to proceed, however modified, actual dialogue must begin.  We are hopeful that, with the new mayoral administration and a newly revised draft AOE, this will now be the case. 

The number and severity of adverse impacts that the current design of the OPC and related road changes would have on Jackson Park make it unlikely that the project could proceed without significant changes.  We note that additional adverse impacts beyond those noted in the initial draft Assessment of Effects (AOE) report are likely to have been identified after the information requested by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation in late August is provided and the comments submitted by the consulting parties have been taken into account. The intent of the Section 106 review is to come to agreement through discussion as to how a proposal that would have adverse impacts on a protected property (Jackson Park in this instance) can best be modified to allow the proposed project (the OPC and the road changes in this instance) to proceed.  Alternatives should be explored.  Compromise is anticipated. 

 Some details

To recap, the initial draft Assessment of Effects report, a key step in the Section 106 review, was released July 29.  A public meeting and a consulting parties meeting were held August 5 (for more details see JPW Updates for July 29 and themonth of August, 2019).  Subsequently, two meetings with consulting parties were scheduled and then postponed. 

Now that the Section 106 review is resuming, we anticipate that the process will follow this previously announced sequence of steps:

Discussion of the revised draft AOE report  
*Indeed, the January 23 webinar meeting for consulting parties, led by the City and the FHWA, will discuss a revised draft AOE report.  We and others will look to see whether the revised draft is responsive to the comments previously submitted by consulting parties and to the information provided pursuant to the ACHP request in August.  

Agreement on the identified adverse impacts:  
* Following the webinar meeting, the City and FHWA will prepare a final AOE report and make it available to consulting parties for an additional 30-day review period.  
* Consulting parties’ concerns and disagreements with the proposed final report will then be resolved via discussions with the FHWA, or,
* If those discussions are unsuccessful, the differences will be resolved via review by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). 

“Resolving” the adverse effects.
* Once all disagreements about the text of the AOE report are settled, the review process will then move on to discussions of how to resolve the adverse effects. 
* Attempts to resolve the adverse effects must first address how to “avoid” any adverse effects, next how to “minimize” them, and finally how to “mitigate” them.  

Final MOA
* The final outcome of the process will be a Memorandum of Agreement outlining how the OPC will move forward, including any agreed-upon modifications to the design of the site regarding road layout, acreage, and building design.  It will be signed, in this instance, by the City, the FHWA, the National Park Service, and the Illinois State Historic Preservation Officer (this office has been involved each step of the way).
* If those discussions were to be unsuccessful, something that would be quite rare, the ACHP would be required to provide formal advisory comments to the lead agency, FHWA, for its consideration.

Underscoring the importance of the Nature Sanctuary

One issue related to the OPC project is the proposal to merge and expand the existing Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses to create a new, pro-level course.  This proposal, also stalled, would entail destruction of the much-loved Nature Sanctuary immediately south and east of the South Shore Cultural Center. A recent piece in the Hyde Park Herald featured a biologist’s appraisal of the significance of the Nature Sanctuary to local wildlife.  A follow-up letter underscored the importance of the Nature Sanctuary to natural world and humans alike.


Thanks to all who have recently offered financial support.  As always, we welcome your contributions.  You can contribute in three ways:

  • You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch sent to directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. 
  • You can contribute via PayPal here.
  • You can contribute via checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 17 N. State St., Suite 1450, Chicago 60602, ATTN Kevin Winters.  Such checks should be made out to FOTP with a note stating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch. 

As always, we thank you.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Jackson Park Watch

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