City rejects Promontory Point plan

By Simon Shifrin

An alternative plan for the renovation of Promontory Point, commissioned by Hyde Park activists to investigate the possibility of maintaining the limestone wall lining the shore at Promontory Point, was largely dismissed by the Chicago Park District, Department of the Environment, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a response last week.

The Task Force for Promontory Point, a local group fighting city plans to replace the limestone wall with steel and concrete, hired Cyril Galvin, a Virginia-based coastal engineer, last May to report on the possibility of restoring rather than replacing the limestone revetment. Galvin’s report, released last month, estimated the cost of renovating the limestone wall at $4.5 million, while the city’s concrete and steel plan is estimated at $17 to $22 million. Galvin responded in his report to concerns about the cost and availability of limestone, as well as the consequences of renovation.

In its recent response, the city states that certain factors were not budgeted into the cost presented by Galvin. “It is our opinion that the cost estimate of $4.5 million provided in the Report is underestimated and does not consider many significant issues required to complete the work,” states the city’s response.

The response also discusses the availability of limestone. It states, “A survey of 17 quarries conducted in 2001 indicates that only one quarry could provide cut stone blocks that meet the necessary material, size and quantity specifications. It would be impossible to obtain competitive bids with only one stone supplier.”

Press officials from the Chicago Park District could not be reached for comment.

Although the city voluntarily responded to Galvin’s report, community activists were critical of what they saw as a dismissive and half-hearted effort.

“We regret that they continue to be completely unresponsive to the community’s deep commitment to preserve the limestone at the Point. That’s very regrettable. They haven’t really moved an inch,” said Jack Spicer, an executive member of the Task Force.

One of the city’s criticisms of the plan was that Galvin failed to discuss handicapped-access. The Task Force, however, intended to account for handicapped-access later in the process, primarily focusing on the feasibility and cost of limestone in the latest report.

“That’s one thing they just missed. We were not trying to design for access,” Spicer said. “It was never intended to be included in the report.”

Spicer explained that the city is demanding handicapped access across the entire length of the shoreline. Community activists see the demands of the city as a pretext for implementing their plans for concrete and steel.

“That’s an example of what I think is the circular reasoning of the city’s argument. They’ve decided that there needs to be disabled access on every square inch on the Point,” Spicer said. “If you take that as a given, the only material to achieve that is concrete.”

Other criticisms of the city’s response by the Task Force were the lack of attention paid to new designs by Galvin. Spicer said that the city’s response to Galvin’s argument that limestone was both affordable and available used the same wording from a document the Task Force received over one year ago.

Galvin, during his investigation, visited numerous limestone quarries that said limestone was available in the desired form at reasonable prices. Galvin also called the quarries after the city’s response and reported that the same availability holds, Spicer said.

“The document they submitted was the same one that they submitted a year ago without any further research,” Spicer said. “This is a document we’ve seen before, so it’s not new… I can’t make any sense of that.”

Other community activists were even more vocal than Spicer in their criticisms of the city’s response.

“I am appalled. I’m really truly appalled. I don’t think their opinion made any sense in the beginning, and it certainly doesn’t make any sense now,” said Alice Schlessinger, president of the Hyde Park Historical Society.

Schlessinger had been pleased by the results released by Galvin, but was very disappointed to hear of the city’s response. As of Thursday afternoon, she had not read the document released by the city.

“I was gratified that this professional said something that seemed to be true…You’re better off with limestone,” Schlessinger said. “Steel is not a particularly satisfying material to use in the way they propose.”

Fifth-ward Alderman Leslie Hairston, who has been very involved over the past two years in the process to determine the best plan for the Point, views the current situation as a good opening to start further dialogue.

“I think the city was looking for additional information that will be forthcoming from Mr. Galvin. I think they were looking for some clarification,” Hairston said.

Cyril Galvin is expected to produce a final report responding to the city’s criticisms on November 26.

“The next step is to wait for Mr. Galvin’s final report, and then we go from there,” Hairston said. “I think that this is a point to begin discussion between both sides.”

Community activists do not think that the threat of erosion collapsing the shoreline is significant, while the city assumes an imminent threat. Such differing views of the Point have determined the way that each side views the future of the site and the stark difference in their cost estimates.

Galvin responded in his report to claims about the threat of erosion and said the rate of erosion reported by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was not supported by his research.

“I think he sees this very differently than the Corps of Engineers. He sees this as a rather modest program and the Corps of Engineers sees this as a war,” Spicer said. “If the Corps were to see this as a more modest project then they might be seen to be vastly overestimating the project.”

Both sides, however, seem willing and hopeful that some agreement can be reached.

Spicer is hoping that the city will recognize that the community has expressed a great demand for maintaining the limestone, though he does not rule out moving toward the safety concerns of the city or the need for reasonable handicapped access.

“I’m still hopeful. I hope we’re heading towards a point where the city will recognize how committed the community is to restoring the limestone revetment,” Spicer said.