Joining Illinois Sierra Club Members in Lake and Northeastern Cook Counties

Spring 2008, Issue #59

In This Issue

Rt. 120 Corridor Land Use Visioning Workshop
  Go To Article A “Development Opportunity”?
  Go To Article Workshop Opens Eyes
Go To Article Protecting the Peruvian Rainforest
Go To Article New Ways to Protect Your Local Lake
Go To Article Lake County's Broken Water Protection System
Go To Article Antioch Oil Slick
Go To Article YouTube Presents: Into the Watershed
Go To Article US Mail Slow, Switch to E-Mail
Go To Article 403 kBPrintable, Portable W&W News
Go To Article Next Issue of W&W News
Go To Article Previous Issue of W&W News
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{ Meetings O Outings

Rustle the Leaf


Rt. 120 Corridor Land Use Visioning WorkshopReturn to Top
A “Development Opportunity”?

By Larry Marvet, Vice-Chair

We recently participated in the Route 120 Bypass “Corridor Land Use Visioning Workshop.” Also called Belvidere Road, this east-west street occasionally has heavy traffic west of Grayslake, where it narrows to one lane each direction. Though many roads in the Chicagoland area see traffic congestion during some hours, including 8 laned I-94, traffic congestion in Grayslake is presented to the public as so horrendous that a new superhighway must be built from the Almond Marsh Forest Preserve just east of Grayslake to Singing Hills Forest Preserve near Volo.

I’ve written for some time that this road building proposal is little more than an attempt to push Cook County sprawl into less developed Lake County. Take a look at the road map of Cook County suburbs and you’ll see it crisscrossed with high speed roads—I-94, 294 and SR53 north-south; I-90, 290, 88 and 55 east-west. Compare that to Lake County, home to more endangered species and greater biodiversity than any Illinois county: only I-94 slices through our region.

So who is pushing for a Cook County-style east-west 120 highway? From the publicity, you’d think it was outraged commuters tired of congestion. In fact, it’s the development community: this Route 120 workshop was chock full of maps labeled “development opportunities”--high density subdivisions, strip malls, big-box shopping centers and parking lots, wall-to-wall along the entire length of the new highway. Atlantic Coast Developers recently presented plans to Grayslake to build 80 acres of strip shopping on the 120 Bypass corridor--in advance of road approval!
Adding to these dishonest efforts to gain our approval and tax dollars (estimate about $10 million per mile of superhighway, probably 10 miles long) are some sad facts. First, the highway and its construction will destroy the big heron rookery at the northern end of Almond Marsh Forest Preserve. Rt. 120 currently narrowly misses the rookery. (Next time you drive on 120 near Grayslake, you should be sure to look to your south and see these big birds flying back and forth from their nests to feed their chicks.)

Heading west from Almond Marsh, the highway would pierce the center of a 300 acre wetlands complex (including the Big Sag Wetlands Bank) just north of Campbell Airport. Many in the Hainseville area consider this beautiful land the natural jewel of their region, but the 120 Bypass will bisect and destroy most of it. Less obvious casualties, but perhaps more important, are the smaller natural areas, open vistas, two high quality streams, drinking water recharge soils and bird and animal communities that this road will pave over.

Beware of the pitch that the 120 Bypass will solve traffic congestion in our county. Understand that the real goal is “development opportunities” to turn Lake County into a clone of Cook County, interlaced with superhighways, filled with strip shopping centers, and still clogged with traffic. The best way to preserve the Lake County we love is by opposing new high speed roads like the proposed 120 Bypass.


Rt. 120 Corridor Land Use Visioning WorkshopReturn to Top
Workshop Opens Eyes

By Evan Craig, Chair

In addition to the philosophical implications, the Route 120 Bypass “Corridor Land Use Visioning Workshop” revealed some very real but unspoken misconceptions. It showed many of the changes the Rt. 120 Bypass portends for central Lake County that could happen if the citizens of Lake County let developers decide this for us.

When shown maps of the future that the new Bypass would bring, most saw it as far worse than what they have now. Some attended this workshop hoping for a quicker commute from their low cost country living to their Deerfield employment. Local town leaders there began to see changing local establishments to relieve the constriction in the present Rt. 120 arterial as a smaller sacrifice. Previously unthinkable, that change was mild in comparison to plans that would make their present communities unrecognizable. Many in the Hainesville area seemed to be seeing their zoning plans and the plans of their neighbor villages on the same map for the first time. The presenters repeatedly questioned whether the area could really support that much retail. Amid their chants for “no more residential,” several local leaders voiced a need for zoning reform and “a smaller bite of the apple.” And there was near consensus to preserve the Northbrook Gun Club’s wetlands and Big Sag wetland bank area north of Campbell Airfield. Even though this Rt. 120 Bypass is its severed appendage, no one even mentioned the plainly visible un-dead corpse of the N-S Rt. 53 extension on the maps.

Widening Rt. 120 around Grays Lake, thought impossible by most, was revealed to impact directly only a handful of houses and a couple of businesses. The presenters showed that intersection improvements and road widening there are real options. But they focused more on a new Bypass. There were no good ways to place a new expressway within a mile of the existing Rt. 120 regional arterial, and connect or bridge it over the present road network. Ironically, the intersection improvements that we have sought for years are now delayed by this Rt. 120 Bypass development conquest. Let’s Get Moving!

While the maps were illuminating, the presentation still suffered from a lobotomized comparison of the impacts of development vs. the impacts of the Bypass. The new residential, commercial and industrial development they showed carefully avoided wetlands, but they blithely placed a major new road corridor right through big sensitive wetlands and high quality streams – as though there would be no impact!

After listening to an hour and a half of “development opportunities,” we asked them to give equal consideration to “preservation opportunities.” We were repeatedly told that environmental factors would be fully considered at a later stage. When they urged us to address land use rather than environmental impacts, we reminded everyone that developing more than 10% of the land in a stream’s watershed amounts to genocide against the native aquatic residents. The development they showed would ruin two high quality streams, Squaw Creek and Mill Creek, so we asked them to present a road plan based on land use with less than 10% roofs and roads instead.

The presentation also suffered from a contorted approach to transportation. While they mentioned that pedestrian access would be wise between new commercial and residential plans, they also presented merely as barriers the three rail lines that serve the area. Revealing a roads-only mindset that would have made Robert Moses proud, they presented rail, a strategic asset, as a public nuisance. We asked them to reflect on the price of gas and the ability of mass transit to relieve road congestion, and to return with plans to improve community access to commuter rail.

Not surprisingly, the Route 120 Planning Council’s Environmental & Stormwater Impact Task Force has already come to the same conclusions that many of those who attended did. In their Final Draft, they list seven different land and water concerns that each “represents a feature that can not likely be designed around and may be a ‘Potential Barrier’ by itself” to the Bypass.

The question now is whether to keep spending the $2M that Congresswoman Melissa Bean secured (promising a congestion cure-all) for engineering for the Bypass, rather than use our money to make the needed changes to the present Rt. 120 corridor.


Protecting the Peruvian RainforestReturn to Top
Spring Sierra Club Meeting

By Larry Marvet

W&W Public Meeting
David Meyer, President Rainforest Conservation Fund
Wednesday, April 30, 2008, 6:45 p.m.
Vernon Area Library, Lincolnshire

The Rainforest Conservation Fund (RCF) is an all volunteer organization founded by a small group of Chicagoland residents concerned about rainforest destruction. Since it's beginning in 1988, they've focused their efforts on Peru's one million acre Reserva Comunal Tamshiyacu Tahuayo (RCTT), home to the most diverse assembly of primate species on any protected land in the world.

Mr. Meyer will tell us how RCF works with the adjacent communities to limit destructive activities through alternative methods and industries. By protecting the Reserva, the Rainforest Conservation Fund is protecting numerous unique and endangered animals, including jaguar, pink river dolphin, harpy eagle, red uakari monkey, giant otter, and the giant anteater.


See Meetings for more information.


New Ways to Protect Your Local LakeReturn to Top

By Evan Craig, Chair

There are two types of lakes and streams in our area: those already degraded by poor development practices, and those that will be unless we act soon. Luckily, part of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), the Water Quality Act of 1987 (1987 WQA) is finally being rolled out this year, 2008, to help protect our lakes, and the streams that feed them.

Familiar rivers in our area, the Des Plaines, Fox and Chicago are formally classified as impaired waters, unsuitable for either fishing or swimming, as are most of our lakes (as we reported in issue #54). Many of our smaller streams are also degraded. Sadly, the native species that once lived in them were lost years ago, and without changes to existing drainage of their watersheds and upgraded sewage treatment plants, will likely never recover.

Some local lakes still support beautifully biodiverse native plant and fish communities, notably: Cedar, Cross, Deep, East and West Loon, Little Silver, Bangs, Sullivan, Wooster, Lilly, and Turner lakes. Native species in them can be protected, restored, or even introduced, as they were at Sanctuary Pond, if we improve their water quality. The streams that feed them are threatened, and need restoration and better protection. These include segments of Sequoit, Squaw, Mill, and the North branch of Nippersink Creek. Our other lakes and streams can also be improved by reducing the load of pollutants that they regularly receive.

Of course, Lake Michigan also deserves a special mention. While its ecosystem has been severely altered, the importance of its water quality for drinking, swimming and fishing is overwhelmingly obvious. Yet the outdated stormwater systems of communities in its watershed east of Green Bay Rd. dump pollutants with every rain. Most of it is delivered directly through pipes and ditches. Kellogg Creek, the Dead River, Yeoman, Pettibone and Crosley Creeks, as well as the ravines (see Fort Sheridan in issue #51), receive storm water, and flow into Lake Michigan.

The CWA passed in 1972 includes standards to protect water quality, and requires polluters to use the best available technology to clean up our wastewater. These have been effective so far to reduce “point sources,” and we have recently won major victories, in Wauconda for all of Illinois, and then in Antioch, to reduce the pollution coming from these sources. Unfortunately, these improvements alone are not enough to clean up the polluted waters they impact.

The 1987 WQA was passed because “non-point sources,” like runoff from roads and lawns, was shown to cause significant water quality impairment. In a permit program called “MS4” (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems), it requires municipalities with storm sewer systems to follow six steps to reduce the non-point pollution reaching our waters:

  1. Public Education and Outreach

  2. Public Participation / Involvement

  3. Illicit Discharge Detection & Elimination

  4. Construction Site Runoff Control

  5. Post-Construction Runoff Control

  6. Pollution Prevention/ Good Housekeeping.

I received a mailing from Mundelein, where I work, with a Citizen’s Guide>> published by the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission (SMC) describing the importance of Best Management Plans (BMPs) in protecting water quality. It said I should get the BMP for our property from the village, and make sure it was being followed. When I called, they said they didn’t have them, and to call SMC. SMC didn’t have them either. So I submitted a FOIA request to Mundelein to find out where the buck stops. The MS4 documents they provided revealed that most of their plans to comply with this program consisted merely of “Continue to comply with the countywide WDO>> (Watershed Development Ordinance).”

As presently written, the WDO manages stormwater quantity, not quality, and too many on the SMC Board favor weakening it. As we explained in issue #37>>, more roofs and parking lots cause stormwater to run off more quickly, and carry more pollutants into our streams. When the amount of these hard surfaces exceeds 10%, the sensitive aquatic plants and animals living in the stream are impacted. When it reaches 25%, even BMP's like swales and retention ponds will not save the local stream. The WDO requires a permit if hard, impervious surfaces exceed 50%. If other water impacts are obvious, it anticipates up to 15% hard surfaces in a normal "Minor Development." In those cases, "buffers" are required to protect our waters. But the WDO allows decreased buffer width through "averaging," and detention ponds and roadways in these intended pollution barriers. Together, these loopholes typically render these buffers ineffective. To make matters worse, the WDO requires that highly erodible hydric soils be excavated prior to construction. Besides making them more prone to erosion during the construction period, removal of these absorbent (and carbon-rich) soils reduces the ability of the site to absorb and filter stormwater naturally. As if that were not enough, municipal enforcement officers may also grant variances to anything in the WDO that they consider a hardship to the developer. As described in the article below, the risk of severe erosion during construction is high, and the consequences of the laxness of the WDO and its enforcement are real. We deserve much more from our villages, SMC, and IEPA.

So go ahead, call up your village and SMC (847-918-5260), and ask for the BMP for a developed property near where you live or work. Find out whether the regulatory filter protecting our streams is doing what the Clean Water Act requires. Then contact Let’s not miss this opportunity to help our waters.


Lake County's Broken Water Protection SystemReturn to Top

An Interview with Eric Roe, by Larry Marvet

Editor's note: We ran this story in two parts in print, but those reading it here or on e-mail saw this complete story in our previous newsletter. It's so important that we're including it again here in its entirety.

Lake County has the best remaining lakes in Illinois, and many of us live here because of that natural beauty. So protection of our waters should be a high priority, right? Maybe not. In a recent interview with one of the County's toughest volunteer activists, I learned that a straightforward municipal construction project flushed tons of dirt (see photo) into one of our most pristine lake systems, even though the city had been warned for months about the danger. It's a sordid story, best told by Antioch resident and Sierra Club member Eric Roe.

Did you try to warn anyone?

Sadly, it seems that this incident is not isolated and may be symptomatic of the County trend to “delegate” responsibility for water protection to lightly staffed, development oriented towns in our area. The following is my discussion with Mr. Roe.

LM: Can you describe the construction project that lead to this pollution incident?

ER: Osmond Sports Park is a joint project between the Village of Antioch and Antioch Township to build a youth sports complex on 37 acres along the northern edge of the H.O.D., EPA Superfund site. It is also adjacent to Sequoit Creek, with access to the park property off Depot Street east of downtown Antioch.  

LM: Were you concerned when you first heard about the construction proposal?

ER: Yes and no. Many residents have seen the development as an enhancement to that which it was, a dump site. The idea that there is open space at the location which could be converted to youth athletic fields seemed like a good idea to many, especially in our rapidly-urbanizing community. Adjacent property owners were happy to learn there would be landscaped fields in their backyards. I think the idea is fine, but my concern was, and is, stormwater discharge from the site, and the potential for flooding and pollution of our glacial-lake community. After Little Silver Lake turned completely brown in 2000, several studies identified flooding and water pollution problems that were the responsibility of the Village of Antioch. The Village has known about these problems for years, but has done little to correct the stormwater problems in our basin lake. The Village has never really addressed the documented failures in our area, which they created by allowing poorly functioning stormwater practices in developments under their control. The developer goes broke, takes whatever money is left and leaves the community with many problems. Infrastructure failure is now becoming a major concern of the public since many developments go bankrupt in Antioch before they are completed. The Village has allowed - or has not disallowed - incomplete inspection practices as many sites in our area are missing, or have incomplete, inspection reports, even though inspection reports are required by law, for the benefit of the public.

LM: Were you able to evaluate the Osmond Park plans, to see whether your worries were founded?

And did anyone ever take any action?

ER: No, I tried several times and I was told that I could see them by Township Supervisor Steve Smouse, but he never followed through. I called and asked for information many times. I attended meetings and asked for the information many times.

LM: Did you try to warn anyone?

ER: Yes, for months! At the Park site I witnessed a steady flow of dump trucks entering the property during the week of Thanksgiving 2006. I found this to be odd because I had not heard of any issued permits. What I observed was the mixing of at least 2 different materials on site, which were then being spread by a bulldozer. There were many piles of spoil that had been left by the dump trucks. There were also many piles of dark-brown colored material that looked to me like dredge spoils around the area too. There was no silt fence at or near the mixing/spreading location, and later I found that there were no permits for the activity either. I called the Village of Antioch Administrator, Mike Haley, and asked for information about the site development activities. He said it was nothing and that “If I thought he was doing something wrong I should report him.”

What happened to Sequoit Creek?

A few days later, at the Antioch Park Committee meeting dated 11/29/06, confusion was obvious regarding the type, use and placement of spoil for the park. Apparently, material was dumped on the proposed construction area without wetlands or erosion control concern or documentation, and apparently against the advice of the contractor, too. I called Judy Martini of the Lake County Board and explained what I learned at the 1/31/2007 committee meeting. Judy brought forth some of the information I provided, about the Osmond Park property, to the Stormwater Management Commission at their regular meeting on 2/7/07. Coincidentally, the Village of Antioch was up for re-certification that night and as a result of the information Judy supplied to the commission, the Village did not receive their expected re-certification. In early February, personnel from the Stormwater Management District (SMC, Lake County's water protection organization) visited the site and documented that no silt fence was surrounding the aggregate of erodible, and potentially toxic, spoil material that were stored and graded around the site.

LM: This was seen by SMC 2 months after you notified the Village, right?

ER: Yes, and this seemed to spur Antioch's mayor to write the SMC, promising to take all the proper precautions by the end of March.

LM: And did anyone ever take any action?

ER: We probably wouldn't be talking about this if they had done anything, but no, the promised activities never occurred, so in early April I followed procedures and filed a formal complaint with James Keim, Antioch's Certified Community Enforcement Officer (CCEO)—the person that Lake County delegates enforcement authority to—listing the screw-ups: no watershed development permit, no soil erosion and sediment control plan, no wetland submittal requirements, no storm water pollution prevention plan, no conditional approval / earth change approval, road built through wetlands, dredge and construction spoils stored on site.

Over time, if we let our guard down, developers will return to dangerous habits and regulators will reduce their supervision.

LM: Did they, finally, take fast action?

ER: Again, no. And this time the CCEO immediately replied to my complaint saying, strangely, that there was no construction and to quit bothering him! His letter said,

1. construction for the project had not started yet,

2. the project won't start until until all required plans are in place,

3. there is no road through wetlands, and

4. there is a silt fence around any fill that might or might not be in the non-construction area. I should note that by this time they had put in a silt fence—but it was in the wrong place so couldn't stop water from flowing off the dirt and into the Creek.

LM: Let's fast-forward to this past August of 2007, a rainy month here. What happened to Sequoit Creek and why?

ER: During a few of the heavy rains, spoil and other soil material eroded from the site and washed through a high-quality wetlands then directly into Sequoit Creek, which feeds into Lake Marie and the chain of lakes. Millions if not billions of gallons of sediment-saturated water turned the Creek a chocolate color from the Osmond Park all the way to Lake Marie. The reason for this massive pollution is that Antioch failed to use modern construction practices and to build the proper safeguards into this simple construction project. Lack of a proper monitoring and the missing silt fence were probably the most flagrant errors. Moreover, officials had been warned many times by various people and organizations, that the site was a disaster waiting to happen. And it did.

LM: We see the photo, but can you describe the damage?

ER: The sediment clouds and discolor the waters limiting recreational uses, it also adversely impacts aquatic environments by accelerating plant growth, which depletes dissolved oxygen levels and stresses fish populations. If there are dangerous chemicals in the spoil (this project is adjacent to a Superfund site and some of the material may have been dredged from a contaminated stream) then the damage to the water and ecosystem can be magnified greatly.

LM: How is the City and County correcting this damage?

The public needs assurance that politicians are not pressuring inspectors to ignore environmental violations.

ER: Since the disaster in August, there has been improved management of the site including, silt fencing and better oversight of the construction practices at Osmond park. Adjacent wetlands received a tremendous amount of sediment-laden runoff, which has no doubt had a negative impact. Once the layer of sediment dries it will become like concrete and the wetlands will no longer be able to soak up and retain stormwater. This will lead to the potential for more flooding and less filtration. The village should clean up the mess they have caused. Unfortunately, so much damage has already been done, and I worry that over time, if we let our guard down, developers will return to dangerous habits and regulators will reduce their supervision.

LM: Do you have any suggestions to fix the system?

Getting public documents is much harder than it should be.

ER: When SMC delegates their authority to local municipalities, the local field inspectors can feel pressure to ease the monitoring and maintenance of environmental safeguards which are designed to limit construction generated pollution. Inspectors need to be more empowered in their work, since they are often employed by towns under the control of politicians who receive considerable campaign contributions from the development community. When developers run into trouble, they go to politicians for help. The public needs assurance that politicians are not pressuring inspectors to ignore environmental violations. SMC enforcement employees need to be insulated from local politics. I can also tell you, after slogging through this issue, that the delegation process today is too easy in the first place, and too difficult to remove after a municipality has screwed-up. I've also learned that there is little transparency into these regulatory processes. I've spent many hours trying to get documentation that is legally required to be on-file for the public. Getting public documents is much harder than it should be.

LM: Thanks for telling us this story, Eric. I hope you continue your hard work.

ER: As a final word, Lake county has been blessed with many high-quality wetlands and open-water lakes. Wetlands are essential to countless creatures for their health and survival. In essence these creatures are our brethren on Earth, their health and ours are intertwined. If we are not careful with our natural resources they will soon be gone. Once lost, they will never return and mankind will ultimately suffer as a result. Let us see that this is not our fate. God Bless!

Antioch Oil SlickReturn to Top

By Evan Craig and Eric Roe

A recent oil spill into the Fox Waterway reveals how vulnerable public waters are to runoff through storm sewers.

On Friday, February 29, a Coca-Cola truck ran into a powerline pole behind Piggly Wiggly and brought six oil-filled power transformers crashing to the ground. They split open releasing 200 of the 264 gallons of oil they contained onto the parking lot. It flowed down a storm grate connecting directly to Sequoit Creek. Efforts to recover it were showy, but ineffective.

We know that “transformer oil” commonly contained dangerous PCBs in the past, so we called the IEPA. They assured us that it was “mineral oil,” not PCBs, and that proof of this was in their laboratory report. However, the response to our formal (FOIA) request contains no such laboratory analysis, only a blank checked on a hazmat report. The “mineral oil” used in transformers is not the kind sold at Piggly Wiggly, so a lab analysis is necessary either way to determine the health threat to our public waters. At this point we are convinced that information given by Antioch and the IEPA to assuage public concern was unsupported. The IEPA officer said the news accounts were misleading. Local ice fishermen posted pictures of the slick (shown left) that rose through their holes on Bluff Lake, downstream from Lake Marie.

All villages should stop inviting this kind of disaster by ending the use of unprotected storm grates. Rather than funnel stormwater into storm grates, runoff water should be filtered across lateral buffers planted with deep-rooted vegetation.

YouTube PresentsReturn to Top
Into the Watershed Part 1

This is one of the short films we showed at our recent W&W Film Festival. It's about the water in Lake Macatawa, MI, but it applies to the lakes here in our territory too. Click once to activate it, and again to start the video.

US Mail Slow, Switch to E-MailReturn to Top

By Evan Craig

It’s gotten so bad, it’s on the evening news. We just can’t count on having this newsletter delivered, and it regularly takes weeks. Meanwhile, the cost of postage just keeps going up.

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Join Our Free E-mail Lists! Return to Top

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Printable and Portable W&W News Return to Top

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