A contamination cleanup at the southwest corner of Oakton Street and McCormick Boulevard has hit a 'bump in the road' after a public forum at McCracken School Tuesday.
The contaminated land - which is adjacent to the Skokie Sports Park on Oakton Street - will soon turn into a massive sports field, with three lighted baseball diamonds, a soccer field and possibly even a place to play cricket. But before any construction can begin, Nicor Gas - along with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency - have to dispose of contaminated material beneath the ground.
Lincolnwood residents became "outraged" after they learned of the traffic route the trucks carrying the contaminated waste would take to dispose of the material.
The original plan was to have the trucks exit Oakton Street and turn right on McCormick Boulevard before heading west onto Touhy Avenue and merge onto the Edens Expressway to a landfill in Joliet.
When Lincolnwood residents realized the vehicles would be cutting through their village, however, they organized a protest and provided an animated spectacle at Tuesday's forum by laughing at several statements made by Nicor officials and questioning those with opposing views.
An estimated 24 trucks were originally set to drive up and down Touhy Avenue in Lincolnwood every hour, eight hours a day for 21 months. That comes out to 192 trucks travelling down Touhy Avenue a day or 4,032 truck for the estimated 21 months it will take to complete the project.
While Nicor can keep their original traffic route - Touhy Avenue is a state road which Lincolnwood has no say over - the utility company has already backtracked.
"The traffic plan has been scrapped," said Jim Tansor, Manager of Community Relations and Economic Development for Nicor Gas at Tuesday's open forum. "[At this time] there is no traffic plan. There is no route. [The new traffic plan] will involve the Village of Lincolnwood and the Village of Skokie."
While the original traffic route would have been the most efficient - Nicor Gas prefers the trucks only turn right as turning left takes more time - Lincolnwood residents are suggesting the vehicles take Oakton or Dempster Street west to the highway. The contamination cleanup has a tentative start date of July 23.
Touhy already is a busy avenue. With the construction of Touhy Marketplace, , many residents feel the original traffic route would only lead to more congestion.
Nicor Gas will be holding future open forums for Lincolnwood and Skokie residents to come up with another solution to the traffic route dilemma.
A tale of two villages -
The forum, which was hosted by Nicor Gas, featured a seating arrangement typically found at an American wedding. However, instead of having the groom's family on one side and the bride's on the other, it was Lincolnwood on one half and Skokie on the other.
Lincolnwood Mayor Jerry Turry responded to Tansor's comments by standing up from his seat and addressing his constituents.
"We know [the original traffic plan] existed at one point," rebutted Turry. "We are not going to jump through hoops just because there is green fields for baseball fields."
Turry is up for reelection this February and Turry's comments were met by applause from many Lincolnwood residents in the audience.
One Skokie resident, however, shared a different point of view.
"I do not share many of the views expressed by Lincolnwood residents," he stated before an audience of about 100. "I'm very excited about the possibilities to come. I think it is exciting for many people who are young and have kids. I'm hoping some of the views of others will be listened to.
"It exists beyond us," he added. "And I think we all need to think about that."
History of the land and resident concerns -
"The materials found underground [at the site] are a result [of] how energy used to be produced 100 years ago," said Annette Martinez, corporate communications director for Nicor Gas.
The site once was considered state of the art. The construction of the plant meant street lamps no longer would need to be lit by hand, and it was a more efficient way to disperse energy.
Coal was used to fuel the plant and over time it became apparent that it was hazardous to the environment. Nicor is planning to remove an unknown amount of coal tar and benzene from the site.
"If removed in a proper manner there are no health risks associated with this sight," Martinez said. "We work with an environmental firm and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. We follow all procedures. We know we can do this appropriately."
Nicor representatives added that among the inconveniences to come from the removal of the contaminated waste is an odor similar to that of mothballs, they said. Air quality will be monitored by two separate devices to make sure there is no risk to nearby residents or workers, officials said.
The cost of the contamination removal will be paid for through a funding mechanism that every Nicor Gas customer pays for that's included in their bill. Martinez added that there will be no increase in customer fees to remove the waste, she said.
The land is owned by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of Greater Chicago. The Village of Skokie is leasing the land from the MWRD.
Signed in 1994, the term of the lease runs through April 2032. Skokie Park District Superintendent of Parks and Facilities John Orhlund suggested that the cost of the lease was extremely minimal to the Village of Skokie. He also added an estimated "ballpark" figure to complete the sports park expansion at around $3 million, but added that the number is not official in any way.