“Final” AOE attracts even more criticism
JPW Update readers are well aware that the Assessment of Effects (AOE) report is a key part of the federal Section 106 review of the impact that the plans for the Obama Presidential Center along with its required road changes would have on historic Jackson Park.
The initial draft AOE released July 29 seemed a bit schizophrenic: in places it documented significant adverse effects on Jackson Park while also arguing in other portions of the report that the impacts were negligible. The second version of the AOE (labeled “Final”), released January 16, was even more inconsistent and more jarring, coupling clear documentation of adverse effects with a forceful assertion of a flawed analytical framework that would render not only the Section 106 process but also the required NEPA and 4(f) reviews virtually meaningless.
- Specifically, the “final” AOE asserts that any impacts of closing Cornell Drive between 59th and 63rd Streets and of removing the segment of the Midway Plaisance between Stony Island and Cornell Drive as well as any impacts of the construction of the OPC are exempt from the requirement to consider ways to avoid or minimize those impacts.
- Further, it asserts that the proper baseline for the limited review it does propose is the post-construction condition of the park and neighborhoods, not the condition today.
Once again, JPW and other consulting parties have responded with careful, thoughtful commentary and critiques, posted on the JPW website. Themes running throughout the critiques include:
- Analyses showing that the AOE analytical framework is contrary to the National Historic Preservation Act, flies in the fact of the inextricable ties between so-called “City” actions and “Federal” actions, and, akin to efforts of the current administration to gravely weaken environmental protections, would set a threatening precedent for further historical protection efforts;
- Consistent questioning and criticisms of the City’s assertions that UPARR replacement parkland should be located on the east end of the Midway Plaisance, already itself parkland listed on the National Register of Historic Places;
- Criticisms of the plan to destroy the Women’s Garden, use the area as a construction staging ground, and then build a scaled down altered green space without the perennial border and trees;
- Pointed questions as to why the proposal to merge and expand the existing golf course is not included in the present Section 106 review when the proposals to close Marquette Drive and construct several underpasses, infrastructure work directly related to the golf project, are themselves included.
What comes next?
The National Historic Preservation Act requires that the lead Federal agency, the FHWA, “consults with consulting parties to develop and evaluate alternatives or modifications to the undertaking that could avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects on the historic properties” (36 CFR § 800.6 (a)).
In that regard, we note that on February 21 the City sent the following statement to the consulting parties: “FHWA is reviewing the comments received, which included objections to findings of effect contained in the AOE, and evaluating those objections to determine how to proceed. As described in 36 CFR 800.5(c)(2), FHWA may either consult with the objecting party to resolve the disagreement or request the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to review the finding and provide its written opinion to FHWA. FHWA will ensure documentation is prepared to address comments received and the documentation will include copies of all comments received on the final AOE.” We will see what happens.
In the meantime, construction of the OPC and work on the road changes remain on hold. As always, we will keep you posted.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!
Thanks to all who have recently offered financial support. 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.
Once again, we thank you.
Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch