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Bubbly Creek Could Get New Life Under Proposed $2.65M Cleanup Plan

By Linze Rice | April 16, 2015 5:53am
 A pair of kayakers traverse Bubbly Creek near Canal Origins Park.
A pair of kayakers traverse Bubbly Creek near Canal Origins Park.
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DNAinfo/Casey Cora

CHICAGO — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is hoping to beautify and restore the ecosystem of "Bubbly Creek," for more than a century known as a dumping ground for toxic waste and other materials from former nearby stockyards.

The Army Corps Chicago Division released its report this week on the 1.25-mile stretch of the Chicago River's 6,600-foot-long South Fork channel of the river's South Branch — better known as "Bubbly Creek" — along with more than $2.65 million in restoration recommendations. 

The report found that a multimillion restoration plan would not only support a stronger and more diverse ecosystem, it would also "enhance the community's outdoor experience" in the McKinley Park, Pilsen and Bridgeport areas.

The project will address multiple issues: high erosion, poor water quality and lack of habitat for wildlife on nearby river banks.

Because of the area's current conditions, only animals that can survive within extremely poor habitats are likely to prosper.

"The ecosystem of this section of the Chicago River is severely degraded by human activities and no longer provides a diversity of habitats sufficient to support health plant and animal communities," the report noted.

According to the report, the restoration of the land could serve as a "critical habitat" for migratory aquatic birds, as well as wetland fish. If restored, Bubbly Creek could even have a positive impact on two endangered species in Illinois: the banded killifish and black-crowned night heron.

Chicago is also intertwined with the Mississippi Flyaway, a migration route traveled by more than 5 million songbirds each year, making an investment in Bubbly Creek's future all the more environmentally critical, the report said.

The project's aim also includes beautifying the creek's outdoor areas in hopes of attracting more residents to explore parks and other natural environments. Popular areas adjacent to Bubbly Creek, like Canal Origins Park and the planned Eleanor Street Boat House, will encourage a boost in use of the city's natural waterways, according to the report.

Toxic waste and other materials from the now-shuttered nearby stockyards has been in this part of the river for more than 150 years. It became known as "Bubbly Creek" because of the bubbles that emerge from under the river's surface as material decomposes.

The term was first coined in 1906 in Upton Sinclair's best-selling novel, "The Jungle," which investigated the conditions and practices of Chicago's meat-packing district.

Over the years, reports have found, because of Bubbly Creek's close proximity to industrial plants like the old Stock Yards, the channel has long been a dumping ground for raw human sewage, meat-packing waste, urban water runoff and toxic materials.

At 6 p.m. April 30, the Corps will hold an open community meeting addressing the report's findings and recommendations at the Bridgeport Public Library, 3400 S. Halsted St.

The Corps is also accepting comments on the report by email at chicagodistrict.pao@usace.army.mil through May 15.

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