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Horner Park Riverbank Restoration Project Finally Given OK to Move Forward

By Patty Wetli | January 17, 2014 8:33am
 A proposal to clear hundreds of trees along the Chicago River in Horner Park as part of a riverbank restoration project met with opposition from area residents.
A proposal to clear hundreds of trees along the Chicago River in Horner Park as part of a riverbank restoration project met with opposition from area residents.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

IRVING PARK — The riverbank restoration project that launched a "border war" between neighbors to the east and west of Horner Park finally has been given the green light by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The Office of Water Resources on Jan. 10 issued the permit authorizing the project.

Encompassing 12 acres and 2,600 feet of shoreline, the $6 million riverbank restoration effort aims to halt erosion on the west bank of the Chicago River between Irving Park Road and Montrose Avenue. The slope will be regraded to lessen its steepness — thereby increasing access to the river — and invasive species will be removed.

Native species of trees and plants will be introduced to better guard against erosion while also attracting pollinators, insects and wildlife.

The plan was welcomed by the Horner Park Advisory Council, Friends of the Park and Friends of the Chicago River, but touched off a firestorm of criticism from residents on the east side of the bank, including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, acting as a private citizen.

East bankers objected to the "clear-cutting" of trees on the opposite shore, which would remove a natural barrier that provides their homes with cover against dust and light pollution from the park.

"It's an assault," one neighbor said. "Nobody signed up to live next to Wrigley Field."

Project leaders from the Army Corps of Engineers walked the site with residents in September and agreed to reduce the number of trees slated for removal and also established a pair of buffer zones where there will be little change to existing conditions.

The resulting permit includes additional special conditions that address east bankers' concerns.

For one, the Chicago Park District has been directed to "consistently uphold the provisions of the 2006 Horner Park Baseball Field Lighting Agreement ... to further reduce the spread of light generated by the operation of the park."

Another condition: Trees and other vegetation will be removed only during their dormant season — no removal can take place between May 1 and July 15.

Finally, to deal with a late-breaking complaint — that herons have been spotted, and possibly nest on the west bank — the permit requires that special care be taken to preserve areas containing potential nesting sites.

"The Horner Park Advisory Council is pleased that this long-awaited project can now move forward," Peter Schlossman, president of the group, said via email. "We’re excited that the restored plant and wildlife habitat, combined with public access, will be a great new amenity for the community."

According to Lt. Col. Kevin Lovell of the Army Corps, the delay in obtaining the permit "didn't adversely affect us."

The project went out to bid, and the contract was awarded by the first of October, in order to meet funding deadlines, he said.

The Army Corps is in the midst of finalizing the construction schedule, likely aiming for a mid-February start, he said, with the entire project wrapping in less than a year.

"The much longer piece to this project are the on-site quality control visits," he said.

For five years after completion of the restoration project and during the planting of native vegetation, Army Corps personnel will inspect the area to make sure the trees and plants "take" to the site, Lovell said.