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Chicago's Daly wants to create beaches

Chicago would use tons of landfill to create beaches, lakefront parkland and bicycle paths from Hollywood to the Evanston border under an ambitious plan outlined Wednesday by Mayor Daley, the city's No. 1 cyclist.

It might sound like pie in the sky to create more than two miles of lakefront parkland, but if landfill created Lincoln Park, North Lake Shore Drive, Burnham Park, Grant Park and the Soldier Field footprint, as well as expanded Northwestern University's Evanston campus, why not use the same concept to continue Daniel Burnham's dream of a continuous lakefront all the way to Howard Street?

"They filled it in at Edgewater. Remember--a lot of this is filled in. If they were ambitious many, many years ago, we can still look at this the same way" the mayor told reporters, after ribbon-cutting ceremonies at the Diversey Bike Bridge. "This is a great project we should do. ... It's a great thing for the future. ... When you get to Hollywood, you have to go on Sheridan Road. As we complete the whole idea of filling that in all the way up to Evanston, it would be beautiful: open space, beaches, parks. That's space we should use."

Cameron Davis, executive director of the Lake Michigan Federation, agreed. "If it's done right, this project could send Chicago over the edge in terms of having the best waterfront of any city in the world,'' he said. Doing it right would mean public ownership, sensitivity to the fish habitat and the 5 million birds that fly over every year, and engineering to avoid downstream erosion, Davis said. The federation fought a 1987 plan by Loyola University to create 12 to 15 acres at its Rogers Park campus. The school abandoned the plan after two years of controversy. A federal judge barred construction as a violation of the public trust. But, "if we're talking about the Chicago Park District owning this property, it eliminates a major problem under the public trust doctrine,'' Davis said. The northernmost stretch of lakefront is a "glaring gap'' where the public doesn't have access to its own lake, he said.

The mayor's dreamy vision is only in the preliminary planning stages, so City Hall has no idea how much it would cost, who would pay for it or how many tons of landfill it would take to create the two-mile-plus extension. But, Daley said it might not be as expensive as it sounds. "A lot of the money will come right from our [own] fill. It's clean fill. Why should we pay somebody to put clean fill out in a corn field?" he said.

Over the years, fill has come from the lake bottom, material shipped from the Indiana or Michigan dunes, scraps from construction sites at North Side mansions, subway excavations and terra cotta from buildings being knocked down. A small portion was debris from the 1871 Chicago fire, said Marcia Jimenez, commissioner of the city's Environment Department.

The most recent big landfill was the Lake Shore Drive extension in the 1950s. On Thursday, Daley made no mention of extending Lake Shore Drive to the Evanston border and a top mayoral aide later ruled it out. Landfill would be used strictly to create parkland, under Daley's plan. City Hall has not yet "formally" approached the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is expected to play an integral role.

Ald. Mary Ann Smith (48th), whose ward includes congested Edgewater, welcomed the mayor's "extraordinary commitment" to create open space in a densely populated area. Asked if she believes landfill can be used from Hollywood all the way to Evanston, Smith said, "I don't think that's exactly what the plan will turn out to be. I think it'll be much more creative. Burnham talked about islands. There's the potential to do islands, open space and elevations."

Transportation Commissioner Miguel d'Escoto said the most dramatic expansion of lakefront parkland to come along in decades could be accomplished in less than 10 years, provided it's done in stages.

Park District Supt. David Doig said the project has been studied internally for "four or five months," but finding a way to finance it is likely to take a lot longer. It would probably have to be part of a larger revetment project, he said.

Bicycle enthusiasts said they would be thrilled with the idea. "Going north has been a big problem. ... When people have exclusive right-of-ways, that's when they ride the most," said Randy Newfeld, president of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation.

* Thu, 6/27/2002

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