Storm ravages lakefront

Arms Corps of Engineers work on Kenwood lakefront for March as winter storm damages shoreline

Damage from Saturday’s storm closed the Lakefront trail’s pedestrian path near 4900 south. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Staff writer

The Jan. 11 winter storm further damaged the pedestrian Lakefront Trail in the same area that has been closed since the fall due to high waves and icy conditions, from the southern 4800 to 5000 blocks. Debris litters the trail; asphalt has been stripped away to show earlier-laid layers; chunks of pavement lie on the grass on the side away from the lake.

Chicago Park District spokeswoman Michele Lemons says on Monday that crews are assessing the damage up and down the city’s shoreline, though costs and timelines are not yet available.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s lake buoys are removed during winter months, but the National Weather Service (NWS) forecasted waves from 14-18 feet (with occasional 23-foot waves), measured wind gusts greater than 50 mph and estimated the peak storm surge to be 1.5-1.8 feet.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) reported that Lake Michigan Levels are the highest ever recorded in the month of January, with record highs predicted for the rest of 2020.

Whether future damage occurs depends on storms and the amount of ice cover, which reduces wave action and subsequently decreases damage. The NWS Climate Prediction Center is forecasting with fairly high confidence colder local temperatures from Jan. 19-27, with highs in the lower 30s and lows in the mid-teens.

The development comes as the USACE is leading a project with the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) to install rip rap along the lakefront from 48th to 50th streets.

USACE spokesman Patrick Bray said the contract to place that riprap is currently being awarded, with three weeks of installation scheduled to begin in mid-March and finish in early April. He said the federal agency is unaware of any damages or changes to the scope of the project due to the recent storms.

Bray confirmed that federal funds are still not available to fully fund the shoreline protection project, as the agency reported in a December community meeting on the lakefront U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1st) convened. He said USACE in Chicago sent a request last year to the agency’s Washington headquarters to reevaluate whether a new federal project is justified.

Local aldermen, state legislators and congressmen have become increasingly alarmed by lakefront erosion in Chicago in recent months, as the city’s beaches have been washed away by high waters that property-owners eye nervously.

Hyde Park-Kenwood Reps. Curtis Tarver II (D-25th), Kambium Buckner (D-26th) and South Side Ald. Greg Mitchell (7th) announced a joint lakefront erosion task force in December, and Kyra Smalls, Tarver’s director of outreach, confirmed its seven members and many volunteers had their first meeting on Jan. 9 to develop an outreach plan for local, state and federal involvement.

“Obviously we’re going to do what we can on a state level, looking for outreach that way,” Smalls said.

Rep. Tarver has not commented on the damage from the storm.

Freelancer Marc Monaghan contributed.