Waukegan Harbor cleanup to clear way
By Susan Kuczka
Published November 17th, 2004
A $27 million cleanup is scheduled to start this week
near Waukegan Harbor, where 36 acres are contaminated
with dangerous chemical waste, officials said Tuesday.
City officials hope to develop the area into a residential
neighborhood when the two-year project is complete.
"Once this land is cleaned up, it will not only
become a premier development site for the city but also
a showplace for the whole North Shore," said Ray
Vukovich, Waukegan's director of governmental services.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pressed for
the cleanup more than five years ago after the discovery
of cancer-causing chemicals at the site, located on a
peninsula between Waukegan Harbor and Lake Michigan.
The site formerly housed a coke manufacturing plant that
shut down more than 30 years ago when it was purchased
by the now-defunct Outboard Marine Corp., which used the
property to test snowmobiles and other vehicles it manufactured.
The abandoned coke plant produced arsenic and other toxins
that remain buried, threatening to seep into Lake Michigan,
federal officials said.
"If someone used this prime lakefront property to
build houses without cleaning it up, people who live there
could come in contact with pollutants . . . and have an
increased chance of contracting cancer," said Kevin
Adler, the EPA's remedial project manager assigned to
A federal consent decree signed Oct. 13 in U.S. District
Court in Chicago requires North Shore Gas, General Motors
and other former owners of the site to pay for the cleanup,
Plans call for workers to remove 30,000 to 40,000 cubic
yards of contaminated soil before covering the land with
6 inches of clean topsoil. The soil cleanup will be followed
next fall with removal of contaminated ground water.
Soil contaminated with high levels of naphthalene and
similar organic compounds will be sent to an out-of-state
regulated utility to be burned for power generation. Soil
with lower levels of contamination will be buried in a
The contaminated ground water will be pumped to an on-site
treatment plant to filter out the arsenic and other dangerous
toxins. Then ground-water quality under the site will
be monitored for at least 30 years, officials said.
The site is one of many near Waukegan Harbor slated for
cleanup over the next several years as the city attempts
to redevelop its lakefront, Vukovich said.
Besides upscale condos, city planners hope to develop
office and commercial space near the harbor as they lead
the former Rust Belt city in a new direction.
"This is just one piece of the puzzle, but it's
an important one," Vukovich said.