Report from Eastlake Terrace: Rising Lake Levels Threaten Lakefront – Part 2

The Parks and Beaches on Eastlake Terrace
by Tom Heineman, RPBG Treasurer

In the fall 2019 newsletter, I reported on the erosion problems at the three beaches on Eastlake Terrace. At that time, all three parks were to be fenced off for safety reasons with no additional short term park district “fixes.”

In early December, Alderwoman Hadden hosted a meeting at Willye White Park to present what the Chicago Park District, partnering with the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), were planning to do to save the parks on Eastlake Terrace. They showed plans to put extensive “riprap” rocks of varying sizes at Juneway, Rogers and Howard beaches. CDOT was involved because they are charged with protecting city infrastructure. Alderwoman Hadden explained that this would be a three to five year “fix,” with hopes that a long term extensive plan for the entire Lakefront would be undertaken.

The meeting did produce some good news: the City announced plans to preserve the northwest corner of Rogers Beach and the Southwest corner of Howard Street as “pocket” beaches. These corners had withstood the brunt of the storms in the past so it was felt that these pockets of sand could remain as small beaches for the neighborhood. Neighbors were thrilled to hear this news.

In the next several weeks, extensive boulders and rocks were strategically placed at the three beaches. Here are some “before and after” photos of Juneway Terrace Beach:

Neighbors were pleased with the result. There was no beach left to preserve so we had lost nothing and parkland was protected.

Rogers Beach and Howard Beach were next in line. By early January, both of these parks also had rock strategically placed to protect the parks and preserve approximately 30% of the beach as the promised “pocket beaches.” These were the plans presented at the meeting and completed at a cost of a couple million dollars:

Unfortunately, Lake Michigan had other plans. On January 11, we experienced a severe storm with gale force winds. After the storm, Howard Beach looked like this:

If you look carefully, you can see that the seawall and “pocket” beach were destroyed. Rogers Beach fared better with maybe half of the seawall adjacent to the pocket beach damaged. Neighbors suggested that half of the remaining pocket beach (near the stairs – see photo on the left) could be salvaged. The park district and CDOT didn’t agree and boulders were ultimately installed across the entire beach (see photo on right).

Neighbors were upset since we now had no beaches left on Eastlake and no access to the water. Alderwoman Hadden promised that she would ask the park district for proposals on how we night have access during the summer. Given the fact that all the beaches have been closed this summer due to COVID-19, the lake access issue has understandably not been resolved. I suspect this will be an issue to be addressed in the summer of 2021.

Neighbors are pleased that the construction fences at Juneway and Rogers have been removed and sod planted. However, the fence has not been removed at Howard Street beach since the play lot needs to be restored and repositioned further from the water (it was removed during construction). Unfortunately, this process appears to be on the back burner for now as well. The Greater Eastlake Terrace Park Advisory Council and the Eastlake community are hoping to have input as to the placement of the play lot.

The Private Buildings on Eastlake Terrace

The City is not responsible for private property on the lake. During the last record high waters in the late 1980s, some building owners on Eastlake worked out a cost sharing deal to put rip rap behind their buildings in exchange for giving up riparian rights to the park district. The park district was on the hook to maintain these boulders for 20 years. The park district is no longer responsible for maintenance of these rock barriers. Fortunately these boulders have held up and prevented any serious damage to the lakeside properties on the 7500 and 7700 block of Eastlake Terrace now owned and managed by the Becovic family.

By contrast, lakeside properties on the 7600 block of Eastlake have sustained damage. None of these properties have rocks behind them. A mix of seawall types stands between them and the lake. All of these seawalls and some of these building sustained damage during the January 11 and later storms. It remains to be seen what measures these buildings will take to protect them from rising lake levels.

The photos below show damage to the barrier between the park and the condo building just south of Rogers Beach during a May storm (photo to the left by Todd Rosenthal, and to the right by Reid Hyams):

The Big Picture

Through June of this year, every month during 2020 has seen record water levels for the month. The highest recorded lake level was in October 1986. The Army Corp of Engineers is not projecting that we will reach that record in October, given current rainfall and evaporation trends.

That said, given climate change, additional moisture in the air, storm intensity and increasing precipitation levels, the trend across the Great Lakes basin is troubling. Climate experts see extremes in weather patterns exerting pressure on both high and low lake levels. In the past, the undulations in lake levels were in 30-year cycles, with highs of three feet above and lows of three feet below average. Now, we have seen a change of three feet below in 2013 to three feet above average levels in 2020 (a seven-year period). Some predict that, due to climate change, this former 30 year cycle could swing as much as five feet above and five feet below average lake levels in a shorter period of time. Those extreme highs and lows will both have disastrous consequences for the Lake Michigan basin.

In February, Illinois Senator Durban called for the Trump Administration to move forward to fund and complete the “Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study.” This study was begun in 2016. Unfortunately, it was not included in the Army Corp of Engineers 2020 plans and has not been included in the Trump Administration’s budget for 2021. Clearly, prolonged attention and funding to address the challenges facing the Great Lakes is long overdue.