Water commissioners consider Lake Calumet plan

Someday the Lake Calumet Basin on Chicago's South Side could be the site of treatment wetlands and recreational activities.

But right now, officials of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago are concerned about the cost of the project that could transform the Lake Calumet area.

The preliminary estimates put construction cost of the  project at about $75 million.

In addition to developing wetlands to treat effluent from the Calumet Water Reclamation Plant, the project would aid in restoring an industrial-like property, the district's Stony Island Solids Management Area, to its original wetlands state.

But Terrence J. O'Brien, president of the MWRDGC's Board of Commissioners, says he is concerned about the price tag, considering that the removal of nutrients from the effluent, such as nitrate nitrogen and phosphorus, would be "very modest," according to a report presented at a district study session this week.

"I want to look out for the cost to the taxpayer," O'Brien said. "I'm concerned about this dollar amount. It seems astronomical to me for the benefit we receive."

The project is part of a joint effort between the district and the City of Chicago to develop wetlands in the Lake Calumet Basin.

But O'Brien says that the city's plans to make the area more hospitable for birds and other wildlife, as well as the possible development of a recreation area, are separate from the water commission's responsibilities.

"Our needs are separate from what the city's are," O'Brien said Thursday. "We have constraints as to what we can spend our money on."

The city's initiatives in the area, including the Calumet Open Space Reserve Plan, emphasize the preservation and enhancement of habitat for birds, fish and other wildlife, as well as recreational activities for residents.

About 4,800 acres in that area are to be managed as the Calumet Open Space Reserve.

Another feature of the project is a pipeline conveying treated effluent for possible use by the Ford assembly plant on Torrence Avenue and other  industrial users.

At the study session on Tuesday, Commissioner Patricia Young asked Richard Lanyon, the district's general superintendent, if he was seeking money for the project now.

"I'm looking for the board's sense as to whether you'd like us to continue to look at this in depth," Lanyon told the commission.

Lanyon said that it is "difficult to put together a timeline (for the project) at this point."

O'Brien, however, said commissioners need more information about how the estimated cost was reached.

The MWRDGC provides storm water management and wastewater treatment for 5 million residents and the equivalent of an additional 5 million commercial and industrial users in Chicago and 124 other municipalities.