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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

Bird Lovers Beg Park District To Move Mamby On The Beach And Threaten Lawsuit, But The Show Will Go On, Organizers Say

As rare birds remain on Montrose Beach, environmentalists say the Endangered Species Act could be used to block the music festival — but Jam Productions says it's a stretch.

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DOWNTOWN — Despite warnings from environmental activists and bird lovers, the Mamby on the Beach music festival is still set to take place on Montrose Beach next month, and organizers aren’t backing down.

Organizers of the August 23-24 festival announced that it was moving from its usual Bronzeville location to Montrose Beach earlier this spring. Everything was fine, until an adorable pair of federally protected Great Lakes Piping Plovers decided to nest and lay their eggs on Montrose Beach.

Now, a coalition of neighbors, along with environmental agencies, are urging the Chicago Park District require Mickelson to move his festival elsewhere. But Jam Productions co-founder Jerry Mickelson remained steadfast that the show will go on.

Credit: Tamima Itani
This female Piping Plover has been named Rose. Her male partner is named Monty. The rare pair are nesting at Montrose Beach.

During a park district board meeting Wednesday, Policy Director For the Illinois Environmental Council Cary Shepard said that the festival’s close proximity to the plovers could possibly trigger a lawsuit under the Endangered Species Act.

Shepard argued that from a risk management standpoint, the park district would be foolish not to move the festival. A lawsuit, even if filed days before the festival, could cause an injunction which could derail the festival and put the park district in a tough position.

“It is my opinion that having a music festival there in August if the birds are still there would constitute a violation of the Endangered Species Act,” he said. 

But after the meeting, Mickelson was unfazed by Shepard’s comments, dismissing them outright. 

“We aren’t violating [the Endangered Species Act], simple as that,” he said.

Mickelson reiterated his commitment to provide top-notch security at the festival and he said he still has a contingency plan to move the concert north and inland if necessary. 

Credit: Jonathan Ballew/Block Club Chicago
An area of Montrose Beach is cordoned off in order to keep the rare birds nesting area safe from danger.

Other environmental activists pleaded with the park district to put the kibosh on the festival.

Jill Niland spoke on the behalf of the Chicago Ornithological Society and said her organization vehemently opposes any large-scale concerts at Montrose Beach, including Mamby.

“This for-profit concert threatens not only the federally endangered birds but also decades of habitat restoration that has turned the park into one of the nation’s top migratory stopover sites,” she said.

Niland said that although Mickelson has promised to protect the Piping Plovers, the Chicago Ornithological Society still worries about the impacts of a concert that would bring 15 to 20,000 people to the beach per day.

“Can the festival organizer truly guarantee their festival patrons won’t irreparably damage sensitive habitats?” she asked.

Niland went on to say that the dangers of a music festival at Montrose Beach go beyond the Piping Plovers.

“The protection of Montrose is not simply the protection of one site but the protection of a global ecosystem,” she said.

Judy Pollock, President of the Chicago Audubon Society, echoed Niland’s comments but also referenced a petition that has garnered almost 6,000 signatures.

Credit: Jonathan Ballew/Block Club Chicago
On Wednesday both supporters and critics of the MAMBY music festival spoke at the Chicago Park District board meeting.

“[The petition] shows how much neighbors and the people of this city value our beaches,” Pollock said.

Pollock said the park district should “work with stakeholders” at Montrose Beach in order to create more stringent guidelines for how the beach is used. She said it would prevent a similar conflict from arising in the future.

“We urge you to protect the decades of effort and the millions of dollars invested up to this point,” she said.

The pair of plovers, affectionately named “Monty” and “Rose,” have already laid two clutches of eggs. 

The first clutch of four eggs was relocated to the Lincoln Park Zoo due to unusually cold weather earlier this summer, but the pair laid a second clutch of four more eggs, and they are currently cordoned off at the beach. 

Mickelson told Block Club that he does not understand why the additional clutch of eggs isn’t also relocated to the Lincoln Park Zoo. He cited a study that says a clutch of Piping Plover eggs has a 90 percent chance of survival in captivity, while only having a 25-76 percent chance in the wild. 

“If they are really concerned about the birds safety why not take the 90 percent chance [and move them to the zoo],” he said.

But that line of thinking didn’t sit well with Pollock.

“He’s cherry picking a study,” she said. “He is not a biologist.”

The flooding of Montrose Beach due to rising lake levels could broker an unintended compromise. The plovers may have to leave if the high lake levels continue and Mickelson may be forced to move his concert inland because there may be no beach left at Montrose Beach come August.

While still undesirable to Niland, she did agree moving the concert inland would be a better option than having the concert on the beach. 

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Mickelson noted his commitment to restoring and improving the Uptown neighborhood. He’s heading up the restoration of the Uptown Theatre and also owns the Riviera Theatre and Aragon Ballroom. 

“I have focused my efforts on this neglected area of the city to bring positive entertainment to the neighborhood,” he said. “That’s why I have brought Mamby to Montrose.”

Mickelson also touted his work with neighborhood social service organizations and nonprofits, including Kuumba Lynx, Sarah’s Circle, The People’s Music School and Truman College. 

Although there have been no lawsuits filed yet, Shepard said his point is simple. 

“Don’t grant the permit this time and the park district will be in compliance,” he said. 

Though Mickelson already has permits needed to organize the event, the park district could take them away, even at the last minute. But park district officials did not indicate any plans to do so during Wednesday’s meeting.

Shepard said that the Endangered Species Act is a “pretty powerful legal tool” and that government agencies or a coalition of citizens could file a lawsuit if the conditions were right. 

“Regardless of if people think the Endangered Species Act is good policy, it’s the law and it has teeth,” Shepard said.

For now, Mickelson remains unconvinced that anything will stand in the way of Mamby.

“I have not considered moving for one second,” he said in June. “Why should we be forced to move from a park that we have every right to use?”

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