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Environmental Progress - Spring 2002

Environmental Progress : Spring 2002

Waukegan Harbor Restoration Moving Ahead with Dredging

Firms underwrite cost of phase I dredging

In the fall of 2001, three companies that do business in Waukegan Harbor, Lafarge Corporation, National Gypsum Co. and Blue Circle Cement Co. Inc. invested $400,000 in the first phase of a multiphase plan to restore the environmental quality and navigability of Waukegan Harbor. Phase 1 involved improving navigability of the harbor by dredging slip one and limited dredging of the entrance channel. Both were completed late last fall, and leveling of uneven areas in the entrance channel are underway.

Photo: The Bernard A. Stiner pavilion.
This striking bandshell, the Bernard A. Stiner pavilion, graces the redeveloped park area.

The harbor's inability to accommodate the navigation of fully loaded ships created an economic burden for the Waukegan Harbor companies. Prior to the dredging, cargo ships could only enter the harbor approximately 30 percent full, significantly increasing the cost of shipping.

Difficulties with navigation in the harbor were the result of several factors, including falling water levels in Lake Michigan as well as restrictions on dredging related to the harbor's complicated environmental past. The discovery of PCBs in harbor sediments had prevented dredging of the primary navigational channels since 1975.

Photo: A pleasure craft entering Waukegan Harbor.
A pleasure craft enters the harbor.

In 1977, U.S. EPA created guidelines for the dredging of Great Lakes sediments that prohibited open-water disposal of dredged sediments with levels of PCBs greater than 10 ppm. The lack of available areas for confined disposal and cost of construction of such disposal facilities effectively restricted dredging in the contaminated areas.

By the year 2000, a plan to increase the navigability of the harbor was under development by the companies and the Waukegan Harbor Citizens Advisory Group (CAG), an advisory group formed by the Illinois EPA. The Waukegan Harbor CAG included representatives from business, education, government, industry, environment, civic and recreation interests and the local citizenry charged with furthering development and implementation of a remedial action plan (RAP).

Their four-phase plan for dredging Waukegan Harbor called for dredging of the entrance channel and slip 1 to a depth of 19.5 feet in Phase I. Phase 2 involves lowering the water and electric lines that run under the harbor, to allow deeper dredging. Phase 3 would include the dredging of slip 1 and the shipping channel to a depth of 23 feet. Phase 4 would be comprehensive testing of the harbor for possible pockets of PCBs that need to be cleaned up.

Map showing the modifications to the Waukegan Harbor.In 1981, prompted by the discovery of high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in harbor sediments, the harbor was designated an area of concern by the International Joint Commission, U.S. EPA and IEPA. Subsequent investigation linked the PCB contamination to activities at Outboard Marine Corporation. The manufacture of outboard motors, lawn mowers, industrial vehicles, and turf-care vehicles, had discharged hydraulic fluid containing PCBs through floor drains at the plant. The drains released PCBs to the harbor and to a drainage ditch north of the plant resulting in the contamination of soil in the north ditch and in harbor sediment.

The site was added to the National Priorities List, often referred to as Superfund, in the early 1980s. During Superfund remediation approximately 35,000 cubic yards of PCB contaminated sediments were removed from the upper harbor and slip 3, thermally treated and placed in a confined disposal facility. However, this dredging did not remove all of the PCB contaminated sediments from the Harbor and dredging of the remainder of the harbor has been hindered by lack of an appropriate area to dispose of the sediments. When the phase 1 dredging efforts ended in the late fall of 2001, approximately 4,000 cubic yards of sediment had been removed from slip 1 and 500 cubic yards of sediment had been removed from the entrance channel. The PCB levels in these areas were low enough that the dredge materials could be stabilized with cement kiln dust and transported by truck to the Zion landfill for disposal. Further study of the contours of the inner harbor floor revealed that a channel had been scoured through the area by the prop wash of the cargo ships. Therefore, only limited navigational dredging was needed to open the harbor to heavily loaded ships.

Photo: Heavy equipment performing stage one dredging opations.
Heavy equipment works on the phase 1 dredging operations.

Immediately following the dredging, the navigability benefits became apparent. Cargo ships can now enter the harbor approximately 70 percent full, shipping costs for harbor companies have dropped, and there have been no more incidents of ships grounding themselves in shallow areas of the harbor. Another major benefit of the project is that it will not be necessary to construct as large a confined disposal facility as would have been necessary if the entire harbor were dredged at one time.

There are always unexpected aspects to such projects, and this one was no different. One truck and two trailers were removed from slip 1 during the dredging project, and divers exploring uneven elevations on the harbor floor discovered a late 1800s anchor partially stuck in the sediment and corroded to the water mains. The anchor was sitting shaft up, making it a potential threat to the water supply lines or any boats traveling through the area. Efforts were made to extract the anchor intact but a decision was finally made to cut the anchor with a blowtorch to remove it in pieces. Michael Galayda, general manager of Lafarge Corporation, is saving the pieces in hope that the rest of the anchor will be recovered when the public water supply lines are lowered in late 2002. He would like to have the pieces welded back together and save the anchor as a memorial to all of the efforts that have been undertaken in order to restore the environmental quality and navigability of the harbor.

Photo: A view of the newly rejuvenated Waukegan Harbor park.
Walks, benches and flowers are part of the rejuvenated Waukegan Harbor Park area.

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