In the May 26, 2000, edition of the Reader an article entitled “Grave Robbers” by Sergio Barreto gave an important overview of what is happening to Chicago cemeteries in regard to our environment. Mr. Barreto alerts us that the cemeteries are habitat for both native and migratory birds and small animals. Deer were present at Montrose and Saint Lucas cemeteries too, but he made no mention of this. And he makes no mention of the prolonged and well-organized effort by the North Mayfair Improvement Association and the North River Commission to prevent the loss of open space that was adjacent and contiguous with the east side of La Bagh Woods.

He quotes Walter Krawiec as a person who organized neighborhood opposition to the developers. The neighborhood opposition was organized by the aforementioned organizations. Mr. Krawiec may have unilaterally spoken out, but I was not aware of him. We spent months attending meetings, monitoring the developers’ plans, speaking before the Friends of the River and neighborhood schools, collecting letters of opposition, contacting the Chicago Fire Department because there is only one road into the Saint Lucas Development, contacting our United States senators, contacting the Army Corps of Engineers. We had several helicopters flying over our area doing floodplain surveys. We also enlisted the support of many environment groups like the Sierra Club. The Nature Conservancy identified this acreage as an area that should not be developed. We contacted a road-building expert about the advisability of an access road being built only a few feet from the river. We tried to testify before the Chicago Plan Commission and that effort was described in an article by the Sun-Times reporter Ray Coffey. We were denied the chance to testify, causing one of our members to shout, “What kind of a democracy is this?”

The Chicago Reader covered the whole problem in an article by Ben Joravsky [January 21, 1994] with an accompanying picture of me and Laurene von Klan, executive director of the Friends of the Chicago River, taken at the Saint Lucas Cemetery.

We lost the battle. The condos and the Jewel were built. Runoff from this project is added to that of upstream development in the urban sprawl northwest of our city, and homes in Albany Park are experiencing increased flooding. Some homes have six feet of water in their basements. And as John McPhee, an authority on land use, predicts in his book The Control of Nature, “Every square foot of new pavement…is accelerating runoff.” This has happened. The minions of the developers, otherwise known as politicians, and the Chicago Plan Commission acquiesced to the moneymaking developers.

The Army Corps of Engineers is reported to be working on a berm solution from Pulaski to Central Park. This will only intensify the flow further east and is at best a piecemeal solution.

The entire record, newspaper clippings and survey maps, of this environmental atrocity is available at the library of Northeastern Illinois University.

Dale Bolling

Past president of the North River Commission