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South Chicago, East Side

Lakefront Dump Site Opposed By Park Advocates, Southeast Siders Hasn’t Had A Valid Pollution Permit Since May 31

The site, which stores polluted sediment dredged from the river and five other waterways in Chicago, has been operating without a valid pollution control permit all month.

A west-facing, aerial view of the Chicago Dredged Material Disposal Facility, operated by the Army Corps of Engineers. To the left of the image is Calumet Park.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
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EAST SIDE — A dump site for polluted sediment on the south lakefront has been partially shut down all month after its state-issued water pollution permit expired amid federal officials’ push to expand the facility.

A pollution control permit which allowed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to operate its “confined disposal facility” at the mouth of the Calumet River expired May 31, the agency confirmed Tuesday.

The 43-acre site, which neighbors Calumet Park, stores polluted sediment dredged from the river and five other federally maintained waterways in the city. The dump is located on land owned by the Chicago Park District, which does not charge the Army Corps for its use.

Without a permit, the Army Corps may not dredge sediment or discharge water from the site into the Calumet River, project manager Michael Padilla said. No dredging operations have taken place since the permit expired, and dredging will not resume until a new permit is secured, he said.

Other “routine” operations will continue at the facility without the permit, such as managing and grading the polluted sediment, Padilla said.

The Army Corps has applied to renew and modify its pollution control permit, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency confirmed to environmental advocates.

The IEPA plans to reach out to community members to discuss the permit applications ahead of a decision, agency engineer Darren Gove told affiliates of nonprofit Friends of the Parks last week.

An IEPA spokesperson was not available for comment Tuesday, and directed Block Club’s questions to another agency representative and a spokesperson for the state fire marshal. Neither official responded by the time of publication.

State legislators must “immediately intervene with the Illinois EPA” to hold the Army Corps accountable for the lapsed permit, Friends of the Parks executive director Juanita Irizarry said.

When set out to dry, dredged toxins at the dump “can become airborne and contribute to air pollution in the neighborhood” even during routine operations, Irizarry said.

“Given their operations in an environmental justice community … the Army Corps should be extra certain to follow the highest standards to ensure that local residents aren’t exposed to any more pollution than they already are,” Irizarry said.

The Army Corps works to prevent such air pollution at the facility by sprinkling sediment with water, using silt fences and growing grass, Padilla said.

Last July, the Army Corps recommended the construction of a new facility on top of the Southeast Side dump site, which is set to reach its current capacity by 2022.

The water pollution control permit is not required to begin construction on the “vertical expansion” plan, Padilla said. The agency’s plans have not changed since last summer, he said.

“Dredging is beneficial for maintaining safe and efficient navigation through the Calumet Harbor and River and Cal-Sag federal channels,” Padilla said. “The harbor and river not only provide benefits for commercial navigation, but also serve as a critical link between the waterway transportation and overland transportation and support industries.”

Friends of the Parks, neighbors and other park advocates oppose the expansion, saying the process to determine where to store sediment once the current site reaches capacity was “flawed and mismanaged.”

Critics say the agency is reneging on its commitment to return the lakefront property to the Park District once it reaches capacity.

The expansion will likely delay plans to restore the dump to parkland by at least 25 years. Army Corps officials maintain the site will become open space “in perpetuity” once the facility closes.

The planned delay is “absolutely unacceptable,” Irizarry said Tuesday. “The land already belongs to the Park District and was in line to move towards becoming a park. … It is time for us to move in this direction.”

The vertical expansion was not considered viable in a draft plan for the site released in 2015, but later became the preferred option based on policy changes at the agency and public input, officials said last year.

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