Jackson Park Watch Update – April 19, 2020

Greetings, all!

  • FHWA continues push to move OPC/road changes forward
  • USACE “public” notice yields new opportunity for public comment

FHWA, USACE push ahead

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has now been joined by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in issuing bureaucratic, misleading, confusing, and arcane documents, all in a seeming effort to move toward approvals of the proposed Obama Presidential Center and its related road changes as soon as possible.

FHWA illegally attempts to skip to mitigation

On April 14 the FHWA informed consulting parties for the Section 106 review that the Assessment of Effects (AOE) report issued in January was now considered final, and that the next step in the process would be “to resolve the identified adverse effect to historic properties.”  However, its announcement pointed only to upcoming “mitigation” discussions, attempting to entirely skip the first and second legally prescribed options for consideration – avoidance and minimization.  JPW is writing to protest this FHWA maneuver.

The FHWA also announced plans to hold three consulting party meetings, beginning in early May.  FHWA proposes to hold the meetings in a webinar format, similar to the January meeting that proved so awkward and unsatisfactory.  Those who participated in that session will recall that it was a lecture-style presentation with little opportunity for questions and no opportunity for actual discussion and dialogue.  JPW is writing also to object to the proposed meeting format, highlighting the unsuitability of the webinar format for genuine consultation, and has proposed alternatives.   

USACE “public” notice

While some predicted that the USACE would have to be involved in approving the OPC given its jurisdiction over federally involved waterways and in particular its leading role in the just completed GLFER environmental restoration project in Jackson Park, it was only in the January AOE report that its role was formally acknowledged.   Now the requirement that it grant key permits to allow the OPC to proceed has come suddenly to the forefront.

On April 1 USACE issued “Public Notice/Application 19-17 Jackson Park” stating that the Chicago Park District has requested permits to destroy and “replace” elements of the recently completed GLFER project and asking for public comment by April 29.  The catch: it is only because a friend of a friend who monitors USACE on Facebook that we and other consulting parties became aware of this notice/request for comments.  It was not sent to us or any other consulting party that we know of; it is not on the prominent Public Notice section of the USACE website; it is not on the City’s website devoted to the federal reviews of the OPC; it is not on the Chicago Park District website – a stealth “public” notice indeed. It can only be found buried deeply on the “Civil Works Projects” list of the USACE website.

Consulting parties to weigh in

We and other consulting parties have taken a thorough look at the USACE notice and have found it wanting in several key ways.  For one, the analysis which is offers is extremely limited and partial.  It proceeds as if the carefully planned GLFER plantings of grasses, shrubs, trees, and other vegetation is a cookie-cutter assemblage that can be picked up and dropped somewhere else without regard to environmental context.  While acknowledging the major changes that the OPC/road changes would make in the immediate area of the GLFER project – on and around Wooded Island, along Lake Shore Drive between 59th and 62rd streets, on Hayes Drive especially in the vicinity of the Hayes Drive bridge – the USACE notice fails to give any consideration whatsoever to potential adverse impacts of these major changes on the completed GLFER areas.  It does not acknowledge rising lake levels that have occurred since the GLFER plans were drawn up.  It does not address Obama Foundation plans to direct storm water gathered on the OPC site into the west lagoon.  It does not acknowledge the destruction of the carefully planned berms along the west side of South Lake Shore Drive.

You can weigh in too – April 29 deadline

The USACE notice solicits public comments on the proposed modification of the GLFER project to accommodate the OPC and road changes.  We urge you to read the notice, think about the 5-year, $6.9 million GLFER project, and submit your comments on the proposed alterations by April 29.  Addresses — for both regular mail and electronic mail — are provided in the notice.


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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