Saturday, April 21, 2018

Degrees of contamination?

Down in the land where Lake Shore Drive becomes South Shore Drive, we have the one-time site of a U.S. Steel plant that used to exist in Chicago.
What will become of the one-time South Works site on the Chicago lakefront?

Go down to 79th Street, and you’ll find a plot of land technically larger than the Loop (a.k.a., downtown) where various real estate developers have proposed projects that – if they were to ever become reality – could seriously revitalize that part of the South Side of Chicago.

YET THESE DAYS, the one-time South Works plant that has been shut down for 26 years doesn’t seem any closer to having something new built on the site than it was on that January day in 1992 when U.S. Steel decided it was no longer financially practical to manufacture steel there.

The fact that steel mills and other industrial uses were on the site back to 1857 means that decades of contamination accumulated there. It had become a very seriously polluted part of Chicago.

And THAT, it seems, is the big hang-up keeping anyone from seriously turning the site into something new.

There was the Chicago-area developer who spent more than a decade talking about developing an entirely new upscale neighborhood on the site between the South Shore and South Chicago neighborhoods.

MOCK THE IDEA, if you will. But its location right on Lake Michigan makes such an idea possible, since there are limits to the amount of addresses in Chicago right on the lakefront.

But even that developer got tired of the bureaucratic nightmares that stretched the project out so long. Most recently, companies based in Barcelona and Dublin had their own plan for a residential development on the site – with the construction of modular homes along with some retail and office space.

But the Chicago Tribune reported their plans to buy the 440-acre site are, “currently on hold because of soil contamination problems that need to be cleared.”

Will this proposed development with the downtown skyline off in the distance ever become a reality?
Not that they’re being more specific. Just more environmental cleanup before anything can happen.

WHAT MAKES IT offbeat is that U.S. Steel, which still owns the land, insists they worked with the Environmental Protection Agency to do cleanup of the site.

They say they’ve been issued “No Further Remediation” notices, which would indicate the federal government is convinced the site is clean enough for a developer to come in and begin putting the site at 79th Street into its 21st Century life after steel.

Which is something I hope is true.

Because there are people who like to use the now-vacant site as a sort of expansive hiking or biking path. Heck, I’ve had occasions when I walked around the site – and checked out for myself the huge concrete break wall that is so big it isn’t financially practical to think about tearing it down.

IF IT REMAINS a contaminated site, it could mean I’ve tainted myself, and many other people also are walking around with the slime of slag and other contaminants on themselves.

Could it really mean that the Spanish and Irish developers wishing to build along South Shore Drive are really seeking some sort of buyout, or other financial perk, so as to make any project they do along our lakefront all-the-more profitable?

Or could it be that somebody is trying to cheap out, so to speak, on the environmental cleanup needed to turn the lakefront south of 79th Street to the mouth of the Calumet River into a viable site.
How much of the steel mill residue remains? Image provided by Chuckman Chicago collection

The sad part of this story is this is a part of Chicago – the one where my own immigrant grandparents originally settled in this city, and where my parents were born and raised and I myself was born – that is oft overlooked by the rest of the city. To those of us with ties to the area, either explanation is completely believable.


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