March 13, 2023
Chicago – The Alliance of the Southeast (ASE) and Friends of the Parks, represented by Environmental Law & Policy Center public interest attorneys, today filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from building a “vertical” dredge waste dumpsite containing toxic materials on 45 acres of Lake Michigan shoreline. That land has long been promised to the community to become a park for residents to use and enjoy. The dumpsite would be built on reclaimed land between Steelworkers Park and Calumet Park on Chicago’s southeast side, and used to dump contaminated material dredged out of the Calumet River for the next 20 years or more.
The site was submerged land within Lake Michigan until 1984, after the State of Illinois passed a law to allow the Corps to build an in-water Confined Disposal Facility (CDF). The law attached a condition: after the CDF is full, the reclaimed land would be handed over to Chicago Park District to be converted into a new public park at the mouth of the Calumet River. The Corps has already delayed the creation of a new public park for over two decades. Now, the Corps is reneging on its public park commitment altogether, and is proposing to build an expanded new dredge waste dumpsite on top of the old CDF that will rise 25 feet in the air.
The lawsuit alleges that the Corps does not have authority to build the new dumpsite, and greenlit the project without adequately considering the environmental impacts and other, less harmful alternatives, in violation of federal environmental and dredge-management laws. The Environmental Law & Policy Center filed the lawsuit as attorneys for the groups in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago.
Concentrated contaminated dredged material at the CDF poses major health risks to the local communities. The Southeast Side is already overburdened with exposure to environmental pollutants. Contaminants identified in the sediment from the dredged materials include mercury, PCBs, arsenic, barium, cadmium, manganese, chromium, copper, lead, and more. These contaminants sit right next to Calumet Park and Steelworkers Park, and are just a few hundred feet from Calumet Beach.
The lawsuit alleges that the Corps ignored residents’ concerns while choosing the CDF site for future dumping. The Corps did not consider any alternative sites outside the Tenth Ward, effectively forcing the community to choose between a menu of bad options. The Corps also failed to adequately evaluate the significant environmental risks of this vertically expanding lakeside dump. For example, the Corps did not test whether the contaminants are leaching into Lake Michigan near Calumet Beach and it has not analyzed how more dumping will affect the structural integrity of the underwater walls separating the contaminants from Lake Michigan, which is the source of much of the region’s water supply.
Amalia NietoGomez, Executive Director, Alliance of the Southeast, said:
“We are tired of being the dumping ground for toxic materials in the city. The Army Corps only considered sites in the Tenth Ward, and we already had to fight against having a second site. Chicago’s Southeast Side is already overburdened, and we don’t need an expansion to add more toxic dredgings from the river right next to Calumet Park, where families gather, do sports, have picnics, and play in the water. We are concerned about the pollution from the Confined Disposal Facility on our health, and our drinking water.”
Juanita Irizarry, Executive Director, Friends of the Parks, said:
“Chicago’s lakefront is one of our city’s most precious gems. The CDF lingers on our lakefront as a remnant of previous eras’ zoning and environmental policies. It is a travesty to continue to designate prime lakefront park land, that is next to other parks and beaches, for a toxic dump. Now is the moment to close or move the CDF to a new location outside of the Tenth Ward or any other Environmental Justice Community.”
Howard Learner, Executive Director, ELPC, said:
“The Army Corps of Engineers is failing to live up to its promise to the Illinois legislature and the community that the CDF site would already be restored into a public park along the lakeshore for people’s use and enjoyment. The Corps’ plans to continue dumping dredge wastes on top of the CDF fail to comply with the agency’s legal obligations to take a hard look at the environmental consequences and fully and fairly analyze better environmental alternatives. Moreover, the Corps’ actions here are at odds with the Biden administration’s environmental justice commitments.”