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Proponents of Worth’s Lucas-Berg preservation site are worried about future

  • Written by By Sharon L. Filkins

Some Worth residents and community leaders who have worked tirelessly to turn the Lucas-Berg site into a nature preserve are concerned that the land on the western end of the village could become a landfill once again.

This despite the fact Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) said last fall that the final step had been taken to protect the Lucas-Berg Preserve from becoming a dumping site.

The Lucas-Berg Preserve site is bordered by 111th Street on the north, Southwest Highway on the west, Oketo Avenue on the east and Palos Hills on the south.

Concerns began when the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, which owned the Lucas-Berg site, leased it to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The USACE intended to use the site as a place to deposit material dredged from the bottom of the Cal-Sag Canal when work was begun to widen the canal.

The USACE even went as far as reconfiguring the property in preparation for their future work, but the work on the canal never materialized. The property was neglected for 30 years, through the ‘80s, ‘90s and into the 2000s.

Lipinski had inserted language into the Water Resources Reform and Development Act in 2014, preventing the Army Corps from dumping the materials from the Cal-Sag into the 78-acre property. The result of that action meant that the site has officially been transferred from the Army Corps back to the MWRD.

Ed Guzdziol was elected mayor of the village in 2001. Guzdziol, who served as mayor until 2009, believed the 78-acre property had potential primarily for commercial development. He also participated in the efforts of the COTE, working with members who included community activist Adele Benck.

COTE had worked during the 30 previous years to protect the fragile ecosystem of flora and fauna developed on the Lucas-Berg site. In 1985, Gene and Larie Jo Meyers had been instrumental in overseeing the planting of seedlings and trees on the site, getting scouting organizations involved and enlisting the help of students from Moraine Valley Community College in annual clean-ups.

In 2005, Guzdziol reached out to the USACE because he was interested in the economic development potential of the property. In response, he received a lengthy report on the Corps plans to deposit dredging material on the property.

This began the David and Goliath battle, pitting Worth against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prevent any deposit of dredging material on the property, which had been transformed by COTE into a nature reserve.

Mike McElroy joined forces with COTE due to his experience with waterways and wetlands. He is the director of the Marine Operations along the Chicago River.

“We basically fell in love with the beauty and possibility of the property and envisioned it becoming a wonderful nature reserve where people could hike the trails, kayak on the water and fish,” said McElroy.

“To that end we met with Rep. Lipinski and his chief of staff, repeatedly banging on the doors of the government to prevent the Army Corps of Engineers from dumping contaminated dredge material on this now beautiful spot,” added McElroy. “Our group immersed ourselves in the techniques of water analysis, hydrology, the impact of contaminants on our water supplies, and we called in experts to testify about the danger involved for the community. The issue was not just to develop a commercial strip of land on 111th to increase tax revenue for the village. It was to protect our children from the dangers of the potential contaminants.”

Benck also credits Lipinski and his office for his support in protecting the property.

“He is big part of this success. He has been good to us and I don’t think this could have happened without him,” she said.

McElroy said that this is a “false victory” and that “we won the battle but may have lost the war.” McElroy is concerned because there is a huge debate in Worth as to what the land should be used for.

“Who is to say what the MWRD will do? Their stand at this time is that the site will either be used for corporate purposes, or be sold to the highest bidder,” said McElroy.

“If the property is sold to the highest bidder, which could effectively prevent the village from purchasing it, how do we know they won’t sell it to another land fill developer? And, if that were to happen, would the village be willing to start all over again to prevent that from happening? We are in limbo now, and it could be years before MWRD does anything,” added McElroy.

Benck said she thinks it will remain much the same and she does not believe that the MWRD will ever give up the property. “Anything could happen over a span of 10 or 15 years. Corporations change, staff members change, etc. No one knows the future,” she said.

Guzdziol still believes it should be used for commercial development to increase tax revenue and lower taxes for the residents. “We have plenty of recreational space now in the village, with our parks, bike trails and the boat launch. We need economic development.”

Taking the middle road on the debate was Gene Meyers, who said he thinks there could be a nice balance on the site, with a mixed use of commercial development and a nature site.

“But, whatever happens will take a lot of time and planning and, of course, capital,” said Meyers. “I do believe this is a gem for our area and we need to be vigilant about a long term plan that would integrate the natural beauty and an appropriate development,”

For further information on the Lucas-Berg site, visit the website at LucasBerg.shutterfly.com.