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Anchorage Gunderboom proposal for straining bacteria off 63rd St. Beach 2002.

Ed. Note--there has been some year to year reduction of bacteria and closures at 63rd, although JPAC would like to see less pollution so there are fewer swim bans. JPAC members attending discussion with the company producing this pollution screen out device, and the Park District, were reluctant to endorse the projects because they feared it may be impossible to know what improvement this year would be attributable to the device. The following matter discusses possible causes of and solutions to pollution that have been proposed.

Hyde Park Herald, December 25, 2002

by Maurice Lee

Summers at 63rd Street beach have become synonymous with E. coli.

Year after year, high concentrations of the bacteria have repeatedly shut the beach down, disappointed swimmers and embarrassing the Chicago Park District. Home to one of the park district's most beautiful and utilized beach houses, the 63rd Street beach is becoming better known for its shore than its waters.

Now, in an attempt to gain control over chronic beach closures, the park district will hire the company that helped clean up Alaska's shoreline after the Exxon Valdez disaster to tackle 63rd Street beach.

the park district has doggedly pursued a number of strategies for dealing with the resilient microbes, ranging from a ground-breaking United States Geological Survey study to discern how the germ operates to testing of sewer pipes near the lake for leaks to cutting culverts into the beach[']s Casino Pier to allow greater circulation in the beach waters.

But while park district officials have developed a large body of information on the bug (leading to the development of a sophisticated prediction model for determining when E. coli spikes are most likely to occur), the best the district has been able to do is endure the bacteria's waxings, protecting swimmers by closing the beach week after week.

Now an Alaska-based firm has offered the park district its services to build a massive water filter across the lake waters surrounding the beach. Gunderboom, Inc. not only says its filter, called the gunderboom, can cure the beach known as "the lakefront's sick child"--the company guarantees it. Having agreed to install the 1,800-foot-long apparatus for free, Gunderboom will only get paid if they can reduce E. coli concentrations at the beach by 50 percent.

"It either works or we go home," said Jim Minor, executive vice-president for the company, "and we intend to deliver for the City of Chicago."

The gunderboom is a submerged forced filtration system, which uses current or tidal action to actually clean water that passes through it, trapping and killing the bacteria within its mesh. At 63rd street beach, the boom will run in an arc from about 62nd Street to the base of the Casino Pier in the lake. The boom will look like a long curtain hung below the water, and will be secured to a Styrofoam floatation device that will float about eight inches above the top of the water and be anchored to the lake bed. The filter material is made from a fine mesh of Polyester and polyproylene fibers.

Additionally, water from within the area cordoned off by the boom will be pumped into the lake periodically.

The park district is encouraged by the possibilities for the project, according to Lakefront Region spokesman Ann Ziolkowski, particularly because the experiment comes at no risk to the park district.

"We're encouraged and optimistic that the gunderboom will produce dramatic results for us," said Ziolkowski. "It's a win-win situation for us: if it doesn't work, we don't pay.

Minor says the entire project--materials, installation and training for park district engineers--will cost about $385,000.

USGS researcher Dr. Richard Whitman, who headed the heralded 63rd Street Beach Study, said he "just didn't know" if the Gunderboom could actually do what its builders say, but approved of the project, if only as a means of proving whether the source of the beach's contamination is located within the sheltered waters of the beach or is swept in along the lake's current.

"I'm excited mostly as a scientist. The gunderboom is going to help answer the question of where the stuff is coming from," said Whitman. "It's an experiment, that's what I see it as."

While it may seem a gamble to bet his entire paycheck against the perennially contaminated beach, Minor said his company has "a lot of experience" getting water clean.

Minor's company helped clean up after the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska. Currently, Gunderboom, Inc. has a system similar to the one they will build here operating in Mamroneck Harbor Village Beach, NY., where Minor says the boom was able to reduce E. coli concentrations by nearly 85 percent after being installed late last summer.

"Any beach," Minor says, "where there's not a bacteria source inside [the boom protected area], bacteria counts are going to go down."