Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Outdoor Firing Range Slated for Environmentally Sensitive Area

Nestled between landfills and the Little Calumet River (just south of 134th street and east of the Bishop Ford) river are 130 plus acres of fenced off MWRD property.  And on this property exist two ponds preserved by the historic Calumet Open Space Reserve Plan: the O’Brien Lock and Dam Marsh and the Whitford Ponds. Both are known for their value as habitat for white egrets and blue herons, as well as other migratory bird species not commonly found in our backyards. But a recent proposal by the Chicago Police Department to develop a firing range on 33 acres adjacent to these ponds may drive the birds away, thus reducing an already-limited pool of nesting options for the Calumet area's marsh and wetland birds.

Never mind that the Calumet Land Use Plan, a momentous undertaking of the Department of Planning and Development partnered with the Department of the Environment, had recommended that the property be reclaimed as open space, or that the area is adjacent to TIF redevelopment areas, the Chicago Police Department is determined to locate a project on the Southeast side that other communities would not embrace.

On a recent tour of the property, members of SETF, CEPA, IDNR, DOE, Chicago Audubon Society and and other community organizations were given a presentation of the project by Sgt. Raymond Hamilton of the Chicago Police Department. While Sgt. Hamilton briefed us on the details, butterflies flittered through the wet prairie plants, egrets flew overhead criss-crossing the river and a spotted hawk glided effortlessly above us.

Ironically, the same attributes that make it a plausible site for the firing range make for an even better nature reserve.  And after visitng the site and  discovering the bird rookeries along the Whitford Pond area, learning that there hasn’t been a serious natural resource survey of the area in more than 15 years, and observing the wildlife thriving there,  SETF is convinced that the Police Department should consider an alternative site - like one of the many brown fields or vacant industrial properties that exisit in the city - instead of impacting an area where nature and wildlife have taken refuge.  While there are many location options for a gun range, the herons and egrets would have few choices for relocating, as isolated wetland areas with tall trees that are suitable for rookeries are far less common than brownfields.

View of O'Brien Pond from 134th Street



Monday, August 16, 2010

Paper to Plants - A Messy Workshop

Though it was hotter than we would have liked, the sun was a welcome sight after having had our paper making workshop rained out the first time.  Knowing how messy the process was, we decided to set up our work tables and equipment on the sidewalk in front of the office.  And it's a good thing we got an early start because just as expected, things did go wrong.  First it was the power strip that didn't work necessitating our having to unplug one of our staff.  Then it was a blender that quit on us before we even got started, leaving us with just one that worked.   Luckily, our group was small enough that it didn't matter.

Tearing paper into tiny pieces.
Blending paper into a slurry.
We began by passing out mini-folders that we had made from recycled manila folders,  They contained simple instructions, a sample of the finished project and a template to use as a cutting guide.  After presenting an overview of the project,  we led two at a time outside while the others stayed in to chat and enjoy the refreshments. Outside we stepped them through the process of making seed-embedded paper.  We had each participant tear 5 sheets of used text paper into tiny pieces, add the prescribed amount of water, blend the two into a slurry and then pulse in a scant amount of flower seeds.  The slurry was than poured onto screens, spread evenly around and then laid between pieces of felt to have the water extracted with a rolling pin.  Knowing the paper takes hours to dry, we had to cut box cardboard into rectangles and cover them with aluminum foil. 

Rolling out the excess water.

Measuring carefully.
 Everyone was thrilled with the finished product and carried their wet sheet of paper home on our makeshift trays to dry. Before they left, they inquired about having a second part to the workshop to learn how to turn their paper into gift tags.  We're working on scheduling a date.

 A new sheet of paper!
A big "Thank You" goes out to Pat Rosen of the Gibson Nature Preserve and Wild Ones, chapter 38 for donating the Midwestern Wildflower seeds.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

End of an era

Undoubtedly, this news has reached many Calumet environmentalists through other venues, but in case you are a curious visitor to our blog, Marian Byrnes, founder of the Task Force, passed away on Thursday, May 20th at the age of 84.  A brief obituary that captures the key elements of Marian's life was posted by Tribune reporter Duaa Eldeib.  There is one factual error in the article: she was preceded in death by three of her sons David, Kevin, and Brian and has three surviving grandchildren.  Her fourth son, Alan, is quoted in the article.  Marian will be deeply missed, and in my mind the best way to honor her life is to carry on her vision of a healthy and vibrant South Side Chicago.

A memorial mass has been scheduled for Tuesday, July 13th from 6-8 PM at Our Lady Gate of Heaven, 2338 East 99th Street, Chicago, IL 60617.  You may check back here for updated information and a reminder as we approach the service.

Those who are interested in making a donation in memory of Marian may choose from one of the following:

Southeast Environmental Task Force
In memroy of Marian Byrnes
13300 S. Baltimore Ave.
Chicago, IL 60633-1425

Circle Pines Center
In memory of Marian Byrnes
8650 Mullen Road
Delton, MI 49046

The Human Society of the United States
In memory of Marian Byrnes
Department MEMIT9
2100 L St. NW
Washington, DC 20037

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rotenone application at T.J. O'Brien Lock and Dam

As the title of this blog entry suggests, the fist toxicant, rotenone, is going to be administered in a 2 mile stretch of the Little Calumet River downstream of the T.J. O'Brien Lock and Dam.  For those of you unfamiliar with the region:

View Larger Map

(Hopefully, my Geography friends will find this map a little more acceptable than my last one.  If not, a better map can be found here.)

Purpose of the rotenone treatment

The purpose of this piscicide treatment, which is being conducted by the IL Department of Natural Resources, is to determine if Asian Carp are in the waterway.  I am told that the locks will close on Thursday the 20th, at which point the canal will be cleared, nets will be put in the water, water samples will be collected and chemical barriers will be put in place to protect boats, marinas and other properties.  Rotenone treatment will begin on the afternoon of the 20th, and IDNR will collect dead fish and conduct monitoring from the 21st through the 25th or 26th.  Dead fish collected during the process will be sent to landfills.

What the public should be aware of

It is important that between May 20-27, 2010 the public should:
  • NOT Swim or recreate in the Little Calumet River
  • NOT Fish in the Little Calumet River
  • NOT Eat fish found in the Little Calumet River
The rotenone application process will not affect drinking water.

Press conference

The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee will be holding a press conference at 10 AM on Thursday, May 20 at Sunset Bay Marina, and more information can be found at the website: www.asiancarp.org.

What about Rotenone?

I did a little digging about the chemical and came up with an opinion piece from the research journal Bioscience which advocates for the use of Rotenone in fish and marine research.  The article is accessible to the non-expert, and here are a few points of interest I pulled from my read through:

  • The World Health Organization classifies rotenone as moderately hazardous (level 3 on a scale of 1 [most toxic] to 4 [least toxic]).  It has a low toxicity for birds and is moderately toxic to rats.  
  • Rotenone kills fish by blocking a cell's ability to take in oxygen, and the chemical is easily taken up through the gills.  The chemical is not readily absorbed by human skin or the gastrointestinal tract, which is the primary reason why it is less toxic to humans.
  • Rotenone breaks down when exposed to sunlight and plenty of oxygen.  
  • The chemical is used in a variety of fisheries management practices, typically to eliminate undesirable species prior to seeding an area with target species.
  • Application as a piscicide is the only legal use of rotenone in the US.

What next?

We at the Task Force are paying close attention to the Asian Carp issue and are talking to a lot of people. As we learn more about the impact this invasive species (and subsequent management operations) has on the environment, recreation and residents, we'll pass the information along to you.  If you have some information to share, please contact the SETF office.

Thanks to Nicole Kamins at Chicago Dept. of Environment and Greg Morris of the USCG Marine Safety Unit Chicago for providing me with information for this blog entry.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Green things at the Task Force

First, thanks to all who came out to the Green Olive on Friday night.  We had a great turnout and V. P. Bryant served up enough drinks to surpass our goal for the evening by almost 50%!  Thanks to member and Geographer par excellence Mark Bouman who pointed out that we could have pulled in a few more environmental socialites if the map in my previous blog entry pointed to the correct address for the green olive.  Who reads maps anyway? :-(

Second, I'd like to announce a partnership between SETF, Chicago DOE and Green Corp - Calumet (GC-C).  GC-C is a job training and community service program which will specialize in ecological restoration projects in the Calumet area.  Funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the USDA Forest Service will allow GC-C to set up its home base in the SETF office starting this month and provide programming through November 2011. 

GC-C will be led by Zach Taylor, Program Manager for WRD Environmental.  He will facilitate the restoration projects in the area and direct crew member training on restoration techniques, chainsoaw operation and safety, herbicide application, seed collection, plant identification, regional ecology, and prescription burn trianing.  Zach most recently worked as a Field Ecologist for V3 Companies and has conducted restoration work in Chicago, Nevada and Maine.  He holds a B.A. from Winona State University in Minnesota. 

Finally, there's green as in money.  Our membership drive will be wrapping up shortly, and we still have a long way to go to reach our goal (and feed a few more birds).  If you haven't become a member or made a donation, it's not too late.  Please support the Task Force by becoming a member and letting your neighbors and colleagues know about our programming and activities.  Thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Tire burning still dirty

Surprisingly, the Illinois house voted overwhelmingly to support polluting the air we breathe with toxic chemicals from burning tires and give Geneva Energy, the plant in Ford Heights wanting to burn tires, green credits for doing so!  We at SETF are thankful to those members of the state senate who are opposed to increasing the likelihood of asthma and other respiratory illnesses in their consituency, for on Thursday they shot down senate bill 380, keeping the air we breathe from getting more poisonous.

It seems curious, however, that many representatives thought the potential economic benefits (Sen. James Meeks thinks Geneva energy might leave the area should they not get incentives to stay in Ford Heights) outweighed the environmental risks (the Illinois EPA has cited Geneva Energy for pollution violations 4 times since 2006).  Was your representative one of them?  You can check the house vote here and the senate vote here.  (And if you don't know who your representatives are, check this link.)  You might want to send your representative an email, asking him/her why they thought SB380 was a good idea.  Feel free to ask if they think there is any merit to Illinois EPA's investigation into whether or not the incinerator, built in a small village with a 95% minority population, vioates any environmental justice laws.

There is no doubt that we need economic revitalization in our region.  To do so at the expense of the health and well-being of residents is unsustainable and unethical.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tip-sy Friday Fundraiser

This Friday (May 7th) we'll be hosting a drink night at the Green Olive (13501 Ave N. - check the map below for directions) from 5-9. We serve the drinks, you leave the tip, and we use the extra cash to keep up our programming and make better use of our office space for environmental activities in the area. If it's been a rough week and you need to relax for a bit, stop on by, say hi and relax with a bunch of Calumet lovers.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Founder of SETF receives award at Calument Summit

Day one of the 2-day Calumet connectedness summit ended with the awarding of four lifetime hero awards; given to those members of the Calumet region community who have dedicated their lives to local environmental acitivites. For those who know Marian Byrnes, founder of the Task Force, it should come as no surprise that she was a recipient of one of tonight's awards:

We at the Task Force are proud to be part of an organization created by person such as Marian, and we hope that we can meet the high standards of environmental advocacy she has set for us all.

By the way, the summit is amazing! The first day was filled with exciting and informative talks that focused on connecting people and places in the Calumet. I'll post a follow up to the entire summit after tomorrow's activities.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Items of note

Thanks to those of you who have helped us get started with our membership drive. As you can see, the bird feeder is slowly, slowly being filled. If you would like to support SETF's efforts to improve the environmental health of south side Chicago, please send in your memberhsip today.

I'd like to bring your attention to the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance which will help improve air quality by requiring Chicago's two coal fired power plants to significantly reduce their soot and carbon dioxide emissions. Here's an exerpt from the Chicago Clean Power website:

The Chicago Clean Power Ordinance is one of the first of its kind and will protect public health, promot clean energy and help Chicago live up to its pledge to be the greenest city in America.

You have an opportunity to show your support for this ordinance by attending the press conference on April 13th held by 49th ward alderman Joe Moore. Stop by the 2nd floor of city hall at 10 PM and let the politicians know that all Chicago residents have a right to breathe clean air.

Last but not least, this link to an article in the Southtown Star came to my inbox from one of the SETF board members. You should check it out before tossing that outdated cell phone or broken ipod.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

It's April 1st, but are we fools?

During the month of April (and a little bit of May), the Task Force holds its spring membership drive. Our goal this year is $11,750. On our blog (and website) you'll find a bird feeder, which as of today is rather empty. So empty, in fact, that there are no birds at the feeder. Over the coming weeks, we hope to "fill the feeder" and attract some birds. An individual membership is $25, and you can read our appeal letter for more information about what we are planning for 2010.

But if you're wondering if supporting the Task Force is necessary, consider the following excerpt from Amendment 1 of House Bill 1470:

"Renewable energy resources" includes energy and its associated renewable energy credit or renewable energy credits from wind, solar thermal energy, photovoltaic cells and panels, biodiesel, crops and untreated and unadulterated organic waste biomass, trees and tree trimmings, hydropower that does not involve new construction or significant expansion of hydropower dams, incineration or burning of tires, and other alternative sources of environmentally preferable energy.

Passage of this bill would allow Geneva Energy, one of two tire incinerators in the country, to earn valuable green energy credits for generating large amounts of toxic air pollution. For years, Chicago's South Side has struggled with developing economically viable communities that are also healthy living areas. Many of the communities in the south side are predominantly minority and low income. Ford Heights, where the Geneva Energy plant resides, is no exception.

SETF works to empower residents in their fight for environmental justice. We hold workshops for residents to learn about environmental issues. Our Good Neighbor Dialogs bring residential concerns to local businesses and encourage industrial partners to strive for ever greener practices. Our Watchdog program keeps an eye out for environmentally unfriendly activities and teaches residents how they can report suspicious activity.

Speaking of suspicious, here's more of HB1470:

"Renewable energy resources" does not include the incineration or burning of garbage, general household, institutional, and commercial waste, industrial lunchroom or office waste, landscape waste other than trees and tree trimmings, railroad crossties, utility poles, or construction or demolition debris, ..."

Does it make sense to you that tires are not on this list? Why not share your opinion with your representative. If you think this legislative foolishness is disturbing, you are not alone. Post a comment if you have other useful information about tire burning or HB1470.

Please consider supporting the Task Force. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About the Food Industry...

 I don't know if the lousy weather we had on Saturday helped or hindered our showing of Food, Inc., but quite a few people braved the windy, Chicago weather to join us.  I had to brave that same weather earlier that morning when I headed out to buy popcorn and soda, since what's a movie without popcorn and soda.  We also made a conscious effort to serve healthier snacks like apple juice and trail mix, but after watching the movie, that's up for debate.

Food, Inc., for those of you that haven't seen the movie, covers a wide variety of issues related to the food industry.  Topics such as: the environmental impact from production, the genetic engineering of seed, the expansive use of corn in our food as well as animal feed, worker issues, and the impact industrial food production has on our health.  The film was packed with information.  We took a break midway just to let our audience digest it some (no pun intended)  before continuing.  You can't watch the movie without feeling inspired afterward to plant a bucket of tomatoes on your patio at the very least!  Doing so guarantees that they will be produced locally, organically, vine ripened and free of worker abuse.

Comments made after the movie:

"Organic farmers are inspiring - monopolies need to be fought."
"I wasn't aware of the persecution from companies against  farmers."
"I didn't know about the subsidization of crops making certain foods less expensive."
"Unaware of the incredible power of the food industries."
"I'll be canning more foods and buying more organics."
"My  mind is boggled by the use of corn in so many products."
"I'll be buying my food at farmers markets when possible."
"I recommend shopping at more farmers markets and reading more labels."
"It was an eye-opener!"

Sharon Rolek offers suggestions for change after movie.

Participants sharing thoughts while munching.

Serious discussion.

Monday, March 8, 2010

SETF March 20th Event

On Saturday, March 20th SETF will host a screening of Robert Kenner's eye-opening documentary FOOD INC. followed by a brief discussion.  Robert's documentary exposes America's industrialized food system and its effect on our environment, health, economy and workers' rights.  Please plan to join us.

Saturday, March 20, 2010
2:00 P.M. - 4:00 P.M.
CSI Office
13300 S. Baltimore Ave. Chicago

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Leadership changes at the Task Force

The Board of Directors held their annual elections at the January meeting. Robert LeSuer was elected to the position of president, Bryant Williams was elected vice-president, Linda Cook was elected treasurer and Tom Shepherd was elected Secretary. The board appointed Peggy Salazar as the interim executive director for 2010. Peggy's commitment to the organization as past-president and impressive record as an active volunteer gives the board great confidence that she will help the Task Force through the upcoming year as we continue to provide relevant environmental programming to the Southeast Side community and advocate for environmentally sustainable growth.

The board of directors has a lot on its plate this year, and we are dilligently working to improve the organizational structure, which will in turn increase the value of the Task Force to the community. We'll continue to post important announcements both here and on our website www.setaskforce.org.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

SETF hosts Asphalt Operations Services, possible buyer of Wisconsin Steel site.

On Thursday, January 7th, SETF members and community residents braved the wintry weather to listen to a presentation by Al Meitl, manager of Asphalt Operating Services (AOS). AOS has plans to purchase 135 acres of the Wisconsin Steel site, located near 106th and Torrence Ave, with the intent to build a new liquid asphalt storage facility. This meeting was the first of several for the company to inform the community of the impact their facility will have. The 17 meeting attendees learned about how the AOS operations require barges to bring in raw materials and diesel trucks and rail for transporting final product to their customers. AOS claims that the increase in truck traffic along Torrence Ave would increase by upwards of 100 trucks/day, but that will not impact the service level of the road and will have minimal impact to current traffic patterns. Attendees raised concerns about the noise of the proposed operations, and we were informed that outside of the trucks and rail, the facility runs quiet. Odors may be a concern, however, and the company will be using a state of the art biofiltration system which efficiently converts sulfur containing compounds (those that create that hot-asphalt smell) into elemental sulfur that gets trapped in the filter.

If approved, AOS would like to start construction of the facility in early 2010 with the plant to begin operation by winter 2010 and be fully operational in early 2011. Mr. Meitl predicts the new facility will create 30-45 new jobs for the area.

A public meeting is scheduled for Monday, January 18, 2010 from 7 to 9 PM at St. Kevin Church, 10509 S. Torrence Ave. A special hotline has been created for those who have questions or concerns, and they can call 1-773-729-7545 for more information

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Upcycling at SETF

Members and neighbors joined in the creative fun on December 3rd at the SETF office.  Using glue and scissors, they fashioned Christmas decorations from old cards, plastic glasses, discarded Cd's, milk cartons and other recycled items.  The creative juices were flowing!  It was fun to watch each person's style develop as the evening wore on. The ladies were so engrossed in their projects, they didn't want to bother taking a break to enjoy the refreshments.  And while there were no penalties for incomplete projects, Linda Cook stayed until the very last minute, determined to finish all of hers.  Everyone deserved an A+ for effort.

Trying to keep her fingers out of the glue!

              Neatness counts!

Measuring up the final project.

Everyone was so helpful.

Milk carton birdhouses.

Sharing ideas.

Holiday Cheer With Finkl Steel

On December 18th, Richard and Linda Cook and I were guests at Finkl Steel’s annual Christmas party. The party was held on the uppermost floor of what use to be an old plastics factory. The expansive room was bordered by lighted Christmas trees, lights twinkled from the rafters overhead and tables dotted the floor. There was even a snowy vignette of life-size snowmen flanked by mistletoe reindeer. It was a virtual wonderland.

The room was full of employees, guests and carolers from the nearby university ambling about. And while we enjoyed the vast selection of delicious food and the wonderful wine bar, we were none the less surrounded by unfamiliar faces. Al Underys of Finkl came to our rescue and was gracious enough to join us at our table spending a substantial amount of time explaining to the Cooks Finkl’s move to the Southside. Using his handheld technology, he was able to show our Indiana members the exact location of the new site. Al also took the opportunity to introduce us to a number of other Finkl employees.

We were having such a good time sharing in the holiday cheer that we regretted having to leave the party early in order to beat the traffic home. I’m especially sorry that I didn’t get to play bean bags – the competition looked mean.

Thanks Finkl Steel for having us as your guests. We look forward to working with you in 2010.

The carolers were lovely.

Linda Cook looks on as Al Underys pin points Finkl's new location.

Posing for the camera.

Mr. and Mrs. Frosty were the judges of the beanbag competition.