Federal Review “Far From Complete”
A spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration says an agreement to address the documented adverse effects of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) on Jackson Park “is still a long way off,” according to a recent report by Block Club Chicago. The draft Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that was presented by the FHWA in July to outline various “mitigation” steps elicited widely divergent and strong reactions from the consulting parties to the Section 106 review. JPW has posted its own and several other statements opposing the proposed MOA. Now we learn that the federal, state and local agencies whose formal approval is needed to conclude the Section 106 review process “are still hashing out their differences” and that reaching an agreement this fall is no longer certain.
In spite of that uncertainty, the City and the Park District have jumped the gun and taken a first step to initiate work on one of the mitigation measures that is proposed in the draft MOA. Last week a draft ordinance was submitted to the City Council to authorize the expenditure of up to $100,000 of City funds for “field documentation” of the existing areas of the Park that would be affected by construction related to the OPC – the site of the OPC campus, roadways throughout the Park, and the east end of the Midway Plaisance where a new replacement area for active recreation is proposed. Assuming standard procedure is followed, the draft ordinance will be reviewed by the Committee on Budget and Government Operations on September 30 and presented to the full City Council for approval on October 31. While $100,000 is not much given the size of the City’s budget deficit, under current circumstances it is money that could be better used elsewhere.
Can Chicago still afford the OPC?
The proposed ordinance cited above is but one more example of the poorly documented commitment of City funds to support the construction of the OPC in Jackson Park. As new public costs relating to the Section 106 review are emerging, JPW has noted that the circumstances framing the proposal for the OPC have changed radically in 2020 and a reassessment of the project is required. The daunting financial challenges posed to Chicago by the impact of COVID-19 on City revenue streams and the parallel impact of rising lake levels were recently outlined by JPW co-president Brenda Nelms in an interview with the Chicago Reporter.
Protect Our Parks stands tall
On September 4, Protect Our Parks filed a petition to have the full U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals review the recent ruling that denied POP’s standing to file a federal suit against the City for its transfer of a portion of Jackson Park to the Obama Foundation. Herb Caplan explained POP’s position and his confidence in its petition in a recent interview with Carol Marin on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight. POP believes it has a rock-solid case on the standing issue and is prepared to pursue the issue on all available judicial fronts, federal and state.
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