Washington Park Wetlands Project proposal 2011

This page is presented by Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, its website hydepark.org, and its Parks Committee, and represents the views of no other group or organization, connected with Washington Park or not. Writer is Gary Ossewaarde.

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The deadline passed for federal funding due to opposition from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and every commenting organization as too incompatable with the historic plan and purpose and too insensitive to park users including fishers and picnicers. And there WAS genuine effort to come up with something workable.

In spring 2011 it came to community organizations' attention that for some time the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had been preparing plans for a expansion and redesign of wetlands for the south half of Washington Park, had reached agreement with a local partner and client Chicago Park District, and held discussions of some degree of openness with several organizations with advisory or stewardship for Washington Park, but no general or public announcement, meetings, or hearings. The work was to begin in June 2011. This would be about the fourth redesign of the wetlands (fed by a natural spring supplemented with city water from 60th Street mains) in the past 20 years.

After the plan became known to more organizations, some of these were included in conversations, but these were closed to the public, including the only "public input" meeting, held the second week of May. Meanwhile, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which must sign on to such projects, issued, in order to have gain full information and have an impact on the changes for historic Olmsted-Vaux and Horace Cleveland designed Washington Park, issued a letter of "Adverse Effect." Negotiations with various parties including preservation, parks, and open space, are underway as of May 19, 2011. Parties are advising groups and individuals to make no contact with the official parties at this time, which could interfere with or prolong negotiations.

The Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference had already sent a letters seeking to be involved as a consulting party and/or in multi-group site meetings. No response was received. Other groups seeking to be involved were informed that the public comment and involvement period was closed. The Conference has taken no condition on the advisability of the project.

The following article is the only general media discussion this site has seen to date. We cannot vouch anything or any terms or characterizations in it except as setting forth background, basics, and expressed concerns. Gary Ossewaarde, HPKCC parks chair.

 

Wash. Park marsh panned. Herald, May 18, 2011. By Sam Cholke, staff writer

An Army Corps of Engineers plan to turn a portion of Washington Park into a swamp has met fierce opposition from preservationists.

In January, the Corps finished a proposal that called for spending $3.9 million on converting the lagoon's shoreline to a 15-foot barrier of tall reeds. Most of the meadow north of the lagoon is to become a spongy wet marsh. A field currently used by equestrians would become a prairie.

The proposal stayed under the radar for months until preservation and park groups found out about the plan in April and reportedly harshly criticized the Chicago Park District and the Corps during the only public meeting on the plan last week. "You don't spend more than $3 million to do harm to a park," said Erma Tranter, president of Friends of the Parks.

The group and others say the proposal takes the park further away from the original plan of its world-renowned designer, Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Jackson Park in Chicago and Central Park and Prospect Park in New York. Olmsted designed Washington Park as a rolling landscape, where people could picnic and fish near the lagoon in the summer and ice skate in the winter. The southern end of the park has none of the undulating hills Olmsted envisioned , and the Corps plan would lower the landscape further into a marsh.

Critics say disconnecting visitors from the lagoon is the biggest problem with the proposal. With the meadow converted to a marsh, picnicking around much of the shoreline would no longer be possible. Visitors could not easily view the lagoon and a barrier of high reeds around the shoreline would cut off fishers from the waters cleared of invasive species and restocked with native fish. "Olmsted wanted people right in contact with nature," Tranter said.

The meeting last week, which was open only to a selection of groups involved in the park, was the extent of public hearing the plan was to get, according to the Corps.

The proposal is now caught up in negotiations with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which also opposed it for similar reasons as the preservationists and parks groups. "We found it did not meet the state of Illinois standards for historical landscape," said Anne Haaker, deputy state historic preservation officer.

The Chicago Park District said it was the client and would not comment on the proposal.

The Corps said it is now close to a compromise with the state and expects to proceed with a revised proposal. "We're still dragging along," said Matt Shanks of the Corps' planning department. "We're working now to pin down the points that were most important to Olmsted." Shanks said the public review process is now over and the plan received only minimum comments.

The plan did not appear on the Park District or the Corps' website during the public review process. The first and only meeting held last week with park groups was not publicly announced and was closed to the public.