Leaders look for ways to protect lake
By Kenneth L R. Patchen
Published July 1st, 2004
About 60 North Shore area political leaders, their representatives
and environmental activists met at the Highland Park Country
Club Saturday morning to discuss new laws, programs and
other ways to keep Lake Michigan clean.
Presentations focused on the need to work with the Great
Lakes Cities Initiative, correcting problems related to
mercury pollution and spent nuclear fuel-rod storage,
cleaning up Waukegan Harbor and landfills at Fort Sheridan,
preventing invasive species and eliminating beach closings.
Aside from the environmental ethic of Highland Park in
general, the quality of Lake Michigan has an impact on
the city's municipal operating revenue, beaches used for
recreation, preservation of land on which homes have been
built and the quality of the city's drinking water.
"This city has acknowledged that this lake is an
important and defining asset," said Highland Park
Mayor Michael D. Belsky.
"The health and welfare of the Great Lakes is essential
to our life," said Highland Park City Council Member
Steven W. Mandel, who also served as moderator.
Highland Park sells drinking water to 65,000 area residents,
including Deerfield, Bannockburn and Lincolnshire, and
the demand is expected to increase 4.4 percent annually
in communities beyond the city limits. Water sale brings
in $7.1 million and is the city's third-largest source
of operating revenue.
At the end of Saturday's two-hour session, Belsky urged
representatives of local governments to join the Great
Lakes Cities Initiative whose goals are to enhance the
roles of mayors in Great Lakes decision making, to share
the best practices to maintain this invaluable resource
and to encourage a Great Lakes restoration plan.
U.S. Rep. Mark S. Kirk, R-10th, of Highland Park, representatives
for State Sen. Susan Garrett, D-29th, of Lake Forest,
and Rep. Karen S. May, D-58th, of Highland Park, both
of whom were in Springfield on state budget matters, Mark
N. Hill of the city's Lakefront Commission, Joel Brandmeir
of the Lake Michigan Federation and David A. Ullrich of
the Great Lakes Cities Initiative discussed what is happening
to improve the lake.
Ullrich said an Invasive Species Act is needed to protect
the Great Lakes. Since ocean-going freighters ply the
lakes, the opportunity for non-native species, such as
zebra-muscles, to enter the water is ever-present.
"Ballast water (in ships) is the biggest problem
we have in the Great Lakes," he said.
Ballast water taken from the ocean is used to maintain
an even keel as cargo is delivered on the Great Lakes.
Discharged ocean water introduces new species to the Great
Kirk recalled the die-off of alewives that plagued Chicago
beaches three decades ago as he identified more current
invasive species altering the Great Lake ecosystem.
For example, a fishhook flea arrived in the bilge water
of a Baltic area freighter in 1998, Kirk said, and is
becoming a problem for fish by attaching itself to their
lips. Also, Asian Carp are within 20 miles of a Chicago
River barrier maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
to keep them out of Lake Michigan. If the carp gain access
to the lake, Kirk said, it will radically change the ecosystem.
David A. Ullrich, director of the Great Lakes Cities
Initiative, also supported the need to reinforce the effectiveness
of the existing Asian Carp barrier.
Kirk argued for additional action to keep mercury out
of the air and out of the lake because it is highly toxic.
Former Highland Park Mayor Daniel M. Pierce praised Kirk's
support to stop the North Shore Sanitary District's efforts
to build a sludge burning plant in Waukegan which would
have added mercury to the lake water.
Kirk said the 30 nuclear power plants on Lake Michigan
are a potential problem. Indeed, the 1,000 tons of spent
fuel rods stored in Zion within several hundred feet of
the lake need to be removed.
In terms of contaminated landfills 6 and 7 at Fort Sheridan,
Kirk told the group that he did not know what further
plans there are to clean them up beyond the just completed
Environmentalists are concerned that contaminants will
drain through the ravines into the lake and become a source
For Kirk, one of the most important environmental issues,
the cleanup of Waukegan Harbor, has potential economic
benefits for Lake County homeowners, especially those
in Waukegan. If the federal government commits $15 million
along with a $6 million from Waukegan, he expects all
homeowners to experience an increase of several thousands
of dollars in property values.
"Environmental protection and economic development
go hand-in-hand," he said.
Ullrich said beach closings and sewage overflow into
the lake are a linked problem. A comprehensive effort
is needed. He said 1,483 beaches were closed in Illinois
Federal funding to eliminate leaky pipes and separate
sewer and stormwater systems all along the lake coast
has dwindled over the decades since major funding first
became available in the 1970s. Other studies suggest there
could be better control of food waste on beaches which
attract flocks of gulls and other animals, which leave
feces behind to be washed into the lake.
Hill reported that Sen. Garrett supports a local program
to identify storm sewers leading to the lake so people
will not pour contaminants, such as paint or oil, into
them. In addition, soon, residents of Highland Park, Lake
Bluff, Lake Forest, Waukegan and Highwood can expect to
find a placard on their doorknob with an educational message
about the problem.
The next major study of Garrett's Clean Water Fund is
to study the relationship between ravines and the presence
of E. coli bacteria in the lake since the presence signals
fecal contamination, which can cause diarrhea.
Kenneth L R. Patchen may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org