Community activists reject City compromise over Point

By Robert Katz

Plans to rebuild Promontory Point collapsed last month when the community rejected a city proposal that would have rebuilt the top two steps of the revetment with limestone and the bottom two steps and promenade with concrete.

In response, city representatives tabled the project indefinitely. Money earmarked for Point construction will go toward other projects, according to park officials.

“The city is ignoring the last six months of progress, reneging on its agreement to collaborate with the community, violating federal law, and worst, going back to strong-arm tactics: intimidation and threats,” said Greg Lane, spokesman for the Community Task Force on Promontory Point.

In reaction to the negotiation breakdown, Fifth Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston called a meeting of the principal parties, and she has required the city to follow through on its commitment to involve the residents of Hyde Park in the discussion. Hairston has also required the final decision to be presented to an independent third party for review.

A 1994 memorandum of agreement between The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, The City of Chicago, the Chicago Park District, and the Army Corps of Engineers, established that the city’s concrete revetment would violate federal law. The agreement states that a repaired revetment “will match the existing” one, in accordance with the recommendations of the secretary of the Interior’s “Standards and Guidelines for Archeology and Historic Preservation.”

The city’s proposal was rejected amidst strong claims from the community that the integrity of the data collected by the Chicago-hired STS Consultants LTD was inaccurate. Lane said that the engineers have a reputation for having “sloppy data at best, and misrepresenting the facts at worst.”

Cyril Gavin, an engineer hired by the task force, compiled an extensive list of the inconsistencies and illogic behind the city’s data. The city claims the Point has been renovated five times since it was built, while Galvin finds only one documented renovation. STS claims that the crane would need to be able to lift 18 tons, but Galvin argues that the blocks will weigh at most eight tons.

Julian Greene, a spokesman for the Chicago Park District, called the city’s engineers “highly qualified.”

Based on this report, David Doig, the now ex-commissioner of the Park District, offered the two-step compromise, which was the proposal the city first set forth in August before a mediator was hired, according to Lane. The task force said the community would be unlikely to accept such a plan.

On January 21 at a meeting of the Promontory Point Working Group, three teams of engineers were dispatched to develop a “design basis” for the Point. The three separate teams were hired by the Park District, the Community Task Force on Promontory Point, and Jamie Kalven, the hired mediator.

At this meeting, Doig reaffirmed the city’s commitment to work with the community, and to the preservation of Promontory Point.

The Promontory Point Working Group is composed of the Chicago Park District, the Community Task Force on the Promontory Point, the Army Corps of Engineers, and Kalven.

The January 21 meeting billed the presentation of the project to occur on January 27. Between the two meetings, the city engineers went on a ski trip, returning to work the day before the meeting, and were unable to be reached during that time.

The city’s engineers say, however, that the community and mediator’s engineers declined to meet with them during the interval.

Without any interaction or discussion between the parties, STS Consultants LTD went ahead and made the presentation to the Working Group. The company’s presentation, a feasibility survey of the community’s proposal, stated that the proposal was “structurally unsound and not a responsible plan,” Green said.

Lane countered: “Everybody knows that the preservation is affordable, build-able, maintainable, and do-able. The community has raised $60,000 and hired many outside, independent experts to prove the city wrong.”

He went on to detail STS Consultants LTD’s reputation, and said an independent California contractor and the Army Corps of Engineers had already said that preservation was feasible.

Lane also detailed the cost problems associated with building the project this year. The federally funded Army Corps of Engineers, which will be footing an unknown portion of the bill for the revetment, has had its funding reduced by $15 million.

Given the lack of a concrete proposal and lack of funds, tabling the project would ensure that other projects are completed.

Lane, who just returned from Washington, D.C., said he has an oral commitment from the local congressman, Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. Jackson backed his commitment to the preservation of the Point and said he had a commitment form the Army Corps of Engineers to restrict funding on a local and national level if the law is not respected.