Morgan Shoal

A 20-foot-wide, 800-foot-long concrete pad is currently being poured along the pedestrian portion of the Lakefront Path north of 51st Street, following the complete destruction of the walkway by winter storms in January of 2020.

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) announced on April 23 that work is underway on a $1.5 million project funded by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) at Morgan Shoal, the area off the lakefront between 47th and 51st Street.

“The project at Morgan Shoal will supplement emergency protection measures that were completed early in 2020 following a massive storm that caused major damage up and down the lakefront due to historically high water levels in Lake Michigan,” the agency said in a statement. 

CDOT, which is partnering with the United States Army Corps of Engineers for the project, will place 1,500 tons of rip rap stone and construct a 20-foot-wide, 800-foot-long concrete revetment that will be a part of the lakefront trail. The Army Corps conducted emergency work at the site last summer after the storm and record-high lake levels damaged the shoreline. 

Members of the Promontory Point Conservancy (PPC), a nonprofit that monitors the lakefront adjacent to Hyde Park, criticized the work in a statement. “We are concerned that the work described in the MWRD/CDOT press releases is in fact not temporary but will be left in place as permanent,” representatives from the group wrote. 

“The truly temporary work already done at Morgan Shoal during the past few months — gravel bags, concrete blocks, armor stone riprap — plus the declining lake level is sufficient to protect the 47th-51st Street stretch of lakeshore and Lake Shore Drive from further damage.  The US Army Corps of Engineers has told us this is true. This new work is not necessary.”

The PPC also noted that, “the 800 feet of poured concrete revetment and 1500 additional tons of rip rap stone costs a huge amount of money.  With this new construction in place, we can’t believe even more money will be spent at Morgan Shoal anytime soon.”

An Army Corps of Engineers representative said, in response to the PPC statement, that the work referred to by the PPC as “truly temporary work already done,” was, in fact, incomplete work and that, the USACE was “always planning to use the MWRD funds.”

“This work is completely and totally temporary,” said the Army Corps representative, and should “suffice for an indeterminate amount of time until the City and Park District completes the Morgan Shoal segment planned as part of the Chicago Shoreline Project. i.e., the Morgan Shoal Framework Plan.” 

The Morgan Shoal Framework Plan was published in March 2015 by the Chicago Park District. It was the result of work by the staff of the Park District and the consulting firm Smithgroup JJR, and included input from three public meetings that took place in the fall of 2014 and the winter of 2014/2015. (Smithgroup was also involved in the production of the Chicago South Lakefront Framework Plan that was published in 2018.)

Framework plans are not prescriptive but are used as guides for the planning and execution of projects.

Morgan Shoal provides a set of challenges that are not found many places along the Chicago shoreline. At Morgan Shoal, bedrock comes close to the surface, creating a hazard for shipping (as revealed by the presence at the site of the Silver Spray, a passenger steamer shipwrecked in 1914). 

In addition, sheet piling — vertical metal posts that support the concrete revetments along the shoreline — cannot be economically used at the shoal, as it can’t be secured easily into the underlying bedrock.

Morgan Shoal also provides a unique set of opportunities.

The CPD’s Morgan Shoal Framework Plan states, “The Morgan Shoal Framework Plan focuses attention toward the water to one of the area’s most unique geologic features while increasing water and land based habitat and recreational opportunities. Increased parkland opens up space for native savanna / prairie landscape throughout, allows for a buffer along Lake Shore Drive, and creates a separation of paths for different activities.”

Morgan Shoal and Promontory Point are the two sections of the Chicago shoreline that weren’t completed under authorization of the 1996 Chicago Shoreline Protection Act. Following passage of that act, the Chicago shoreline was divided into sections, with responsibility for work on different sections being taken by either the CPD or the USACE. The shoreline section between 43rd and 57th street was and is the responsibility of the CPD, which ran out of funds before the project could be finished.

The City, Park District and Army Corp of Engineers are currently looking forward to the publication of Biden’s proposed 2022 budget, expected in May, with hopes that the last segments of the Chicago shoreline waiting to be repaired will be included as line items in that budget.

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