North Side shoreline braces for winter weather, lake levels continue to rise

ByJalyn Henderson via WLS logo
Monday, November 4, 2019
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With Lake Michigan levels at a 30 year high, city officials are preparing to protect the shoreline as winter weather approaches.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- There's a question running on the minds of city officials and people who live along the lakefront.

"What happens if something catastrophic happens?" 49th Alderwoman Maria Hadden said.

Lake Michigan levels are at a 30-year-high, standing approximately 581 feet, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. The last time the lake levels reached near this height was in 1986, at 582 feet.

And with winter weather already here, city officials are worried about peoples' safety, flooding and potential building damage.

"We're just seeing the erosion increase at an exponential pace and it's terrifying," Alderwoman Hadden said. "It's really scary to go out there and see the land just gone."

In August, the Chicago Park District announced it was planning to assess erosion damage on the city's 26-mile shoreline.

RELATED: Park District officials say Chicago's lakefront is slowly disappearing

"The lake has been so high and so powerful this year that a lot of our temporary efforts that we can do in-house at the Park District failed," said Heather Gleason, Chicago Park District's director of planning and development. "They collapsed. So we realized we needed a long term engineering solution."

To prevent water from hitting the street this upcoming winter, the Department of Transportation placed jersey barriers along "high risk" areas like Juneway Terrace, Howard Street, Rogers Avenue and Thorndale Avenue.

"The challenge now is that we have a ton of rainfall over the last year that is contributing to that so it's really caused this higher level of erosion that we're seeing," Gleason added.

This isn't just a North Side problem, it affects the entire Lakefront, from Rogers Park down to the Lower East Side.

Jersey barriers, sandbags and fencing are only temporary solutions. There's a long term plan too.

"There's not a big sum of money that can be put at this right away. We have to get federal dollars," 48th Alderman Harry Osterman said. "Part of that is to do a study with the Army Corps of Engineers so it's going to take a couple million dollars to get that study underway and that study will take a couple years to get done."

Until something permanent is in place, be careful while on the Lakefront. If you see barriers or fences, don't cross them.

If there's something you think the city should know about, contact your local alderman or the Park District.