CHICAGO–(ENEWSPF)–May 25, 2017. A group of over 30 community organizations have joined with several environmental and conservation organizations to press their demands to the Illinois International Port District (IIPD) to conform to a City of Chicago Land Use Plan that was passed 15 years ago, which identified substantial portions of unused property at Lake Calumet as having “open space” designation, with recreational opportunities and public access.
The initiative also has the support of local alderwoman Susan Sadlowski Garza of the 10th Ward, in which Lake Calumet is situated.
These many groups have been attempting to work with IIPD to allow public access for the intent of hiking, fishing, rowing & paddling, camping, bird watching, and general nature study at the vast property on Chicago’s southeast side.
The Port District has been adverse to permitting citizens access to the property, with the exception of golf play at Harborside Golf Course, which the IIPD owns and maintains.
Illinois senators are trying to broker concessions from IIPD while they consider a bill (HB1797) in the Capitol that would forgive nearly $50 million in debt that the Port District owes to the citizens of Illinois, due to a $15 million loan the state granted to IIPD dating back to 1980. The Port District has never made an attempt to repay the loan, which has ballooned exceedingly over the years.The Port District asks the state to forgive the loan so they can “clean their books” of the debt, and be able to borrow additional monies to make improvements that would spur port development. However, community groups argue that they have been left out of the process.
The groups have petitioned legislators to withhold passing the bill unless community benefits are attached that would give access to acres of unused land which could be conserved for wildlife habitat and for passive recreational activities.
A deal in October 2014 was announced that arranged for 282 acres to be deeded to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for public use purposes, but that plan was nixed by Gov. Bruce Rauner upon his election later that year. Currently, the entirety of the spacious Lake Calumet property is surrounded by a grim, forbidding concertina-wired fence, which the IIPD claims are necessary for Homeland Security and safety purposes.
Lake Calumet has an elaborate and complex history. Long used as a dumping ground for garbage, sludge, and other nasty waste products, it once enjoyed a reputation as an outstanding recreational haven for trapping, hunting, fishermen, boaters and naturists from throughout Chicagoland. Many Chicago residents are unaware that this large lake within the city limits even exists.
A vote on HB1797 will be held in Springfield in the next couple of days before the legislative session ends.. The groups mentioned above that comprise the Lake Calumet Vision Committee have testified that no debt forgiveness should be granted without concessions by the IIPD for public access, and for developing recreational programs. The Cook County Forest Preserve or the Chicago Park District would be willing to accept the property and develop programs, if it were to be made available.
Lake Calumet and its surrounding properties are amenities that could be enjoyed by both adults and youth- today and for future generations.
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