Jackson Park Watch Update – May 9, 2020


Greetings, all!

In our last Update (April 19), we pointed out that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has been in high gear, issuing bureaucratic, misleading, confusing, and arcane documents, and scheduling a blizzard of Section 106 meetings, all in a seeming effort to move toward approvals of the proposed Obama Presidential Center and its related road changes as soon as possible. This FHWA drive continues.  In this Update we present some key points.

Accelerating the Section 106 review

In January the FHWA presented the “final” Assessment of Effects (AOE), which documented yet again that the planned construction of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) along with the related road changes would have severe adverse effects on Jackson Park and the Midway as well as on the Chicago Park Boulevard System. Consulting parties were given until mid-March to submit comments, and many including JPW did so, raising a large number of questions and objections.

In April, having dismissed all but one of these questions and objections without explanation, FHWA made one small alteration, pronounced the AOE final and announced plans to move on to the next stage, resolution of adverse effects, with a series of rapid-fire webinar meetings focused on “mitigation.”

JPW and others questioned the focus on “mitigation,” which by regulation should be considered only after avoidance and minimization measures. We also protested the use of the webinar format, which is unsuitable for actual consultation and legitimate discussion. An additional concern is that the use of an online format limits participation to those with internet access and technical skills, thus shutting out a part of the relevant community.  As has become typical, FHWA responded with a confusing explanation of its definition of mitigation, stating that avoidance and minimization can also be included under that label.  It also insisted that the webinar format is well suited for its purposes. 

The first of these webinar events took place on Wednesday, May 6, and the presentation and initial raw transcript are on the City’s website.  Note the continued use of the single term “mitigation” throughout by FHWA and other staff, despite occasional indications that all of the proposals to resolve the adverse effects, regardless of category, would be considered. 

With agreement by Matt Fuller prior to the webinar, JPW submitted a multi-part proposal for resolving the adverse effects to Jackson Park and the Midway.  We were able to outline the proposal briefly during the webinar itself. Our proposal is provided as an attachment to this Update.

In a new and important development, considerable attention was paid during the webinar to whether FHWA is obliged to approve the use of federal highway funds for implementing the City/Obama Foundation proposal to close Cornell Drive and make the myriad additional related road changes.  By extension, the same question was raised as to whether the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the National Park Service are required to agree to the requests concerning changes to the GLFER project and the City’s location of replacement parkland on the east end of the Midway Plaisance park.  This issue of the scope of federal authority moves the discussion beyond the FHWA assertion that it cannot evaluate “City Action” and will continue to be pursued.

Next steps?  The City is preparing an on-line “poll” to be sent to consulting parties to get feedback on the suggestions for resolving the adverse effects (whether labeled ‘mitigation’ or not) made before and during the webinar and to allow for the submission of new suggestions.  Consulting parties are encouraged to circulate the link widely so that anyone who has an interest in contributing to this process can do so.  JPW will send out information about the link to the poll as soon as it is available.

We encourage everyone to respond to the poll and submit one or more suggestions for resolving the adverse effects.  Think big and broadly.  Do not worry about whether to label your suggestion “mitigation” or not – you may want to label it a “resolve adverse effects” proposal. Suggestions for resolving adverse effects that you might want to consider making include: withdraw the attempt take the east end of the Midway Plaisance for “replacement parkland”; keep Cornell Drive open between 59th and 63rd streets albeit with traffic calming measures and improved pedestrian and bicyclist access; find legitimate replacement parkland equaling 19.3 acres in Woodlawn and/or South Shore; keep the Midway Plaisance roadway open between Stony Island Avenue and Cornell Drive; save the existing Women’s Garden and improve access via replacement of steps with ramps; move the OPC tower and building complex out of Jackson Park; site the OPC in Jackson Park but redesign the OPC tower to be more harmonious with the Olmsted design of the park and to eliminate visual competition with the Museum of Science and Industry.

USACE GLFER request comment deadline extended

In the April 19 Update, we reported on the “stealth” public notice from USACE asking for comments on a request that it agree to changes in the just completed GLFER project in order to accommodate the construction of the OPC. As noted, we had objected to the lack of legitimate public notice and the short comment period. To its credit, USACE quickly agreed to reissue the public notice and to extend the deadline for public comment until May 15.

As a result, there is still time to submit comments if you are interested.  We encourage you to do so; instructions for submissions are in the notice. The comment that JPW submitted is attached below.   We note that the USACE is not automatically required to agree to the request from the City and Park District.

And yet another federal review – 4(f) evaluation rushed forward

Two full years ago, FHWA submitted the highly controversial first draft of its “4(f)” review of proposed roadway changes to Jackson Park.  It asserted that a proper review of alternatives to the closure of Cornell Drive did not need to take place because the proper ‘baseline” for the review is the post-construction condition of the area – after Cornell has been removed – not the current condition.

Now the FHWA has posted, without announcement, another version of its 4(f) report with a deadline of June 8 for review and comments.

We will comment on this complex issue at length in a subsequent Update, but do want you to know the full extent of the high-pressure campaign the FHWA is now mounting.

Protect Our Parks appeal to be heard May 21

On another front, the Appeals Court hearing for the POP lawsuit contesting the City’s transfer of land in Jackson Park for the OPC is set for May 21, as was previously announced.  However, the format of the hearing has been changed to a Zoom meeting. Reportedly, the session will be live-streamed or recorded for general viewing on YouTube, and we will share details as they are available.  


Thanks to all who have supported us financially.  With this recent FHWA speed up, we will require additional financial support for the outside expert resources we need to continue our work.   We will welcome your contributions.  If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will get back to you. 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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JPW proposal for resolving Section 106 adverse effects

JPW comments on USACE Public Notice 19-17 Jackson Park

(If you cannot open one or both of these attached documents, contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will send them to you directly.)

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