Army Corps to Excavate Point

By Carolina Bolado

Fuel tanks may be buried underneath Promontory Point, according to the Louisville district office of the Army Corps of Engineers. The site is one of three on the South Side of Chicago that will be excavated in search of fuel tanks left over from Cold War Nike missile sites. The Chicago Park District is delaying the Army Corps’s plans to gather more information through excavations.

“We’re going to make sure that it won’t [disrupt use of the Point],” said park district spokesperson Angelynne Amores.

Spokespeople from the park district and the Army Corps of Engineers will hold a community meeting tonight at 7:30 in the Solarium at the South Shore Cultural Center to discuss what will be happening at the Point in the coming months.

The Army Corps of Engineers conducted a preliminary investigation last November by scanning for metal underground. They registered abnormal readings from the Point and from two sites in Jackson Park, where fuel tanks may be stored. According to Kay Clement, a local park activist, excavation to search for the tanks will affect only the meadow area of the Promontory Point park and will take approximately three weeks.

“Just that area will be fenced off, but nothing else will be disrupted,” Clement said.

The Promontory Point Nike Defensive Missile installation site, dismantled in 1971, was first put in place in 1954 to protect Chicago from long-range Soviet nuclear bombers. Missiles were also placed at two different sites in Jackson Park near 63rd Street. In the event of a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union, the missiles would shoot down Soviet aircraft. In 1984, Congress implemented a plan to investigate contamination from old Department of Defense sites that were no longer in use; over the years, the Army Corps of Engineers has been cleaning up similar sites across the country.

“They’ve been doing these all over the country,” Clement said. “There were 18 sites in Chicago and five in Indiana.”

“At the Point they had a radar screen and at Jackson Park they had missiles,” Clement said. “The don’t have the money to do that [excavate the Jackson Park sites] right now, so they’re starting with the Point.”

According to Corps of Engineers spokesperson Kimberlee Turner, if the excavation at the Point finds no fuel tanks, the Corps may move on to the Jackson Park sites. “We’ll just work until we run out of money,” Turner told the Hyde Park Herald.

According to Turner, Nike sites like that at the Point usually stored diesel, gasoline, and missile fuel. The Department of Defense, however, is not certain if there are any tanks at the Point, or, if there are any, whether they are empty or full. If fuel tanks are found, the Army Corps will also test for ground contamination that may have been caused by leaks in the tanks.

“No one knows if there’s really anything there or not,” Clement said. “If there is something there, they will remove it and replace it with sod and trees. The Army Corps of Engineers pays for everything.”

Clement expects that tonight’s meeting will clear up any questions that the community members may have about the Corps’s plans for the Point, in whose aesthetics neighborhood residents are actively involved. Controversy about the Point has recently centered around the imminent renovations of the shoreline; many community members have protested the Chicago Park District’s plans to substitute the Point’s limestone with cement and steel revetments, and are in the process of trying to propose a more natural-looking design. Controversy is not new, however, to Promontory Point. In 1955, hundreds of community members rallied against the Army’s decision to make the Point a missile site.