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Study to survey Waukegan Harbor sand buildup

Dredging equipment along pier Waukegan Harbor. | Thomas Delany Jr.~ Sun-Times Media

Dredging equipment along the pier at the Waukegan Harbor. | Thomas Delany Jr.~ Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 19, 2012 11:55AM

WAUKEGAN — City officials have approved a $25,000 feasibility study to explore options for management of sediment accumulating at the entrance to Waukegan Harbor, a situation that has forced the channel to close at least twice in the last year.

Aldermen approved the deal this week with a 5-4 vote following nearly 20 minutes of debate that saw 3rd Ward Ald. Gregory Moisio and 6th Ward Ald. Larry TenPas questioning why the city would address maintenance of a facility that has been dredged by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is under formal control of the Waukegan Port District.

“I’m a little tired of all the harbor and all the money we have to pour into it,” Moisio said. “In my mind, it really only services one (company), and that’s (National) Gypsum. As long as Gypsum’s down there operating, you’re going to have what you have down there now. No one’s going to live next to a wallboard factory — are you kidding me?”

Moisio added that “as far as I’m concerned, I’m not going to spend any money on that harbor unless it benefits Waukegan.”

Mayor Robert Sabonjian said he feels that if the harbor entrance keeps closing due to sediment buildup, it will affect other businesses like Larsen Marine, as well as the city’s ability to market public land on the north lakefront.

“Why are we taking ownership of this situation? Because the city has probably the most valuable property that exists on the lakefront, especially in that harbor area,” Sabonjian said. “The cleanup of the harbor is going to be done in about 18 months time. During that 18 months, we need to find a solution (to) sand traveling from the north, coming around the barriers and being left in the mouth of our harbor, which makes it difficult not only for the larger commercial boats, but also for the recreational boaters as well.”

The harbor entrance was closed to deep-draft shipping in October 2011 following wave action from a windstorm that shifted sediment into the channel. The Army Corps performed an emergency dredging operation around that time, but it was closed by a second storm late last year.

In July, after some concern was aired that federal funds would not be designated for another dredge, the Army Corps completed a $509,000 operation to reopen the channel. Sabonjian told the council Monday that the feasibility study, funded by a downtown/lakefront tax-increment financing district that is being drawn down, will propose solutions if federal options are shelved.

“The Army Corps of Engineers has announced in meetings up in Milwaukee (that) I’ve attended that this harbor is one of a number of small- to medium-size harbors that they are officially intending to abandon,” Sabonjian said. “It is going to be a knock-down, drag-out brawl to keep this harbor maintained in some fashion. The concept is to do something that doesn’t require continual dredging — whether it’s extending the seawall or doing something else, that’s the goal.”

Jon Shabica of Shabica & Associates, which will perform the study, told aldermen that his staff will look at “the things we can do in-house, knowing that we don’t have millions of dollars to continue to throw at that harbor.”

“This may be a $5,000 idea at the end of the day where we just may come in with bulldozers and take sand off the north (beach) and deliver it back to Illinois Beach State Park,” Shabica said. “We haven’t identified what we can do, (but) we recognize the fact that work is going to have to start happening at that beach, and the goal is to keep the sand out of the harbor.”

Joining Moisio and TenPas in voting against the study were aldermen Sam Cunningham (1st Ward) and Thomas Koncan Jr. (2nd). Voting in favor were Harold Beadling (4th), Edith Newsome (5th), Lisa May (7th), William Valko (8th) and Rafael Rivera (9th).

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