Friday, November 15, 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Latest Pet Coke Media Coverage

ALJAZEERA was able to capture and show how residents are impacted by the dust from the coal and pet coke piles that line the Calumet River.  See story here:

And here's an excellent commentary by Harry Henderson of NRDC:

Friday, October 18, 2013

Just When We Thought It Might Change

With the closing of the local coal fired power plants, we had hoped that the mountains of coal that have lined the Calumet river would go away or at least diminish in size.  For decades, residents living near the storage facilities have complained about dust on their property and expressed concerns about the air that they breathed.  Contrarily, it appears the coal will be replaced with pet coke and the amount is sure to be increased due to BP's refinery expansion in Whiting Indiana.  Our hopes of a cleaner, healthier Southeast side were dashed.

In the past, we expressed our concerns about this situation to visiting EPA and IEPA officials, but nothing much came of them.   This time SETF contacted our local officials and took them on a tour of the area pointing out the amount of coal and pet coke and the impacts it had on the community. Vice President Tom Shepherd  had worked closely with members of the Clean Power Coalition and was able to engage some of the organizations in this matter with us.

As then came the infamous photo of pet coke dust blowing in thick black clouds carried away into the neighborhood on the winds of a storm.

As a result of support from organizations like the Natural Resource Defense Council, the Illinois Environmental Council, Environmental Law and Policy Center and other groups, we were able to produce a video that lead to all kinds of media coverage.  The issue was timely as earlier this year, residents in Detroit complained about pet coke dust blowing over them from piles along the Detroit river.  It turns out what we thought was a local issue is actually much bigger.

Go her to read about our latest efforts and the communities concerns about the pet coke.,0,3084871,full.story

and watch this here

read this great article here:

and this is the photo of dust blanking the neighborhood taken by Anthony Martinez of Rising in Social Equality that ignited the fire so to speak:

Monday, September 16, 2013

134th and Ave. K

Property that was identified in the Calumet Open Space Reserve plan for preservation and that was once targeted for development has now been made available by the owner Benjamin Kadish of Avenue K Land LLC.  The property sits between Powderhorn and Wolf Lakes and could serve as a link between the two.    

On Monday, representatives from IDNR, the Forest Preserve, the Army Corp of Engineers, the Calumet Ecological Park Association and the Southeast Environmental Task Force, toured the property with Alderman Pope and owner Benjamin Kadish.   The purpose of the tour was to view
the property and it's parameters for purchase consideration by the Forest Preserve District.  This was  but a preliminary step in the process and there is still much to do before a final decision can be made.

Group walking the perimeter of the property.
Property for consideration is outlined in red.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

One Person Can Make a Difference


August 18,2013
How one person can make a big difference
Yesterday, August 17th, I attended the dedication of Park No. 499(not to be confused with 503) in the southeast side of Chicago in honor of John “Beans” Beniac.  Mr. Beniac was a local resident of 10735 Avenue D.
Following open heart surgery, Beans started cleaning up the “prairie” across the street from his house as exercise and something to do. He started by picking up trash; 40 wheelbarrows of junk including tires and car batteries. Then he started mowing the area. The more he did, the more there was to do.
His neighbor’s  saw what he was doing and joined in. One started from the other end of the street and started mowing down the where Beans had stopped. Other residents contributed flowers, benches and hard work. Eventually, a bocce ball court was installed. This was back in the early 80’s.
The area became the site for many July 4th and Labor Day parties. Legend has it that Beans would make his own “bombs” to explode on Independence Day but no evidence(wink-wink) exists to verify this.
Beans died in 1994 but the park lived on. Local residents and volunteers continued to make improvements to the strip of land. John Pastirik, David Vance and Karen Roothaan just to name a few.
A paved bicycle path now runs through the park and is heavily used.  This is part of the Burnham Greenway, which is composed of two trails—Burnham Greenway North and Burnham Greenway South—that run along a former railroad corridor between Chicago and Lansing, Illinois. There are plans to extend and connect these short sections, which will create 11 miles of trail through some of this urban environment’s best natural areas.
There was a good turnout for the dedication on another beautiful Chicago summer day. The Beniac family was well represented and Alderman John Pope was there as well as leadership from the Chicago Park District, Calumet Ecological Park Association and Southeast Environmental Task Force.
John “Beans” Beniac Park is a great example of how one person lead and others followed. Throughout history there are many stories where an idea was acted upon and snowballed into a movement. Don’t be afraid do what you think is right even if you are only one person. If you do it they will follow.

Friday, August 2, 2013


One of the more hideous features of the Illinois International Port District (IIPD) property at Lake Calumet is the tall, concertina-wire fence that encircles this once-popular and beneficial lake on Chicago's far-south side. The property has been in the news lately due to a major announcement about privatizing Chicago's port operations, and resulting scrutiny of the current management at IIPD.
Since the settlers first came to Chicago and before, this spot had been a thriving, life-filled area teeming with fish and wildlife. For generations it was, for many Chicagoans, a recreational destination rich with opportunities to hunt, trap and fish. It was a playground for this writer and innumerable others that grew up and lived in the nearby neighborhoods. The lake and the surroundings are still considered one of the top birding areas of the state; it is the centerpiece of the Calumet flyover for migratory birds, and the waters still harbor an abundance of various fish species.

Years of uncontrolled dumping by industry, with the complicity of government have shrunken, unmercifully altered, and polluted what had been regarded as "Chicago's other lake."

But a group of environmentalists including Openlands, Southeast Environmental Task Force, Friends of the Parks, Calumet Ecological Park Association, Alliance for the Great Lakes, Pullman Civic Organization, Audubon Society and others have been diligently working to "open up" Lake Calumet to the public once again. Their committee has been pursuing a Lake Calumet Vision plan for over 15 years -a plan to allow hiking, fishing, birdwatching, picnicking, camping, unmotorized boating, etc.

Just as the board and the operations of the Illinois International Port District need to become transparent and more accountable, it is time to reopen the unused portion of Lake Calumet area for the public to enjoy once again.

Tom Shepherd, Pullman
Lake Calumet Vision Committee


Monday, July 22, 2013

No Room on the Bus

 People came out without having reservations for our tour hoping for cancellations.  Regrettably, we had to turn some away because there was no room on the bus. 

It was the perfect day for a bus tour - the sun was shining with very few clouds in the sky.  That's not to say we didn't experience a few snafus - like when we couldn't get in the parking lot of Testa Produce facility so that our audience could get a closer look at the facility.  Luckily, Josh Mogerman of NRDC was aboard.  Josh is intimately familiar with the facility and is passionate about their green initiatives.  He was able to provide enough detail about the environmental as well as financial benefits that the point hit home.

After Testa, the bus hit the Dan Ryan headed for the Exelon/Sunpower Urban Solar Farm in West Pullman.  The trip there allowed Lisa Albrecht of  the Illinois Solar Alliance to provide the group with updated information about Solar Energy - its advantages, progress and hang ups.  Once there, she was able to add pertinent details about the facility.   Our bus driver drove slowly along the perimeter so that all could get a clear view of the many rows of solar panels and appreciate the vastness of the operation.  With the exception of a limited few, most passengers hadn't seen nor were they aware of this installation.  They quietly hung on to every word that Lisa shared.

Lisa fielded questions as the driver headed east from Pullman to northwest Indiana - the site of British Petroleum's  (BP) oil refinery.  On the way there, we pointed out the acres of landfills, the Waste Management Methane Gas to Electricity plant, the multi-year construction project to lower Torrence avenue 25 feet below street grade and other points of interest.
Once we crossed the border into Indiana, Thomas Frank (, a resident of East Chicago, took over the helm providing information about the detriments of tar sands, the impact BP has on the community and details on how they were able to sidestep regulations by labeling the expansion project an ongoing maintenance" operation. Josh chimed in with information about added water pollutants such as high mercury levels to Lake Michigan from the increase in oil refining.

We rode along the perimeter of the refinery which stretches out for blocks.  We ended up on 119th Street, the business street that runs through Whiting.  It's a quaint street lined with old storefronts with new facades housing restaurants, stores, gift shops and salons.  The biggest treasure is an old fashion cinema complete with a marquee that shows current movies.  It all has a "small town" feel.

Lunch was at the Bulldog Brewery, a neat place to go.  The waiters were scurrying around, working hard to accommodate our large crowd.  The meal gave the tourists a chance to chat with one another and share opinions about what they had just toured. Our final feature was a stop at the 106th Street bridge over the hard-working Calumet River where mountains of coal and petroleum coke are stored after being off-loaded by freighters and barges. Soon it was time to board the bus and make our way back downtown.

Pictures and comments made below:

Bus departs downtown.

Comment: " Expert commentary on sites visited and questions asked."

Tom Shepherd of SETF talks about our organization.

Comment: " I liked all the information and meeting liked minded people"

Lisa Albrecht of Solar Services

Comment: " Very satisfied, very informational."


Josh Mogerman of Natural Resources Defense Council

                                     Comment: "I liked the knowledge you assembled - good speaker."
278 foot high wind turbine in front of Testa Produce

Comment:  "The on bus lecturers were great!"
Rows of solar panels at the Exelon Urban Solar Farm

Comment:  "I liked getting so much information so efficiently and pleasantly."
Miles of piping needed for the refining process

Comment:  "Very informative, all speakers were impressive in terms of their knowledge."
Construction on the BP expansion project is in the final stages.

Comment: " I liked being able to see what you're talking about in addition to the talk.
It was enormously informative!"
Refining process continues through construction.

Comment:  " I liked the informative lecture and tour of BP."

A train blocks long crosses our past carrying industrial waste.

Bulldog Bewery

Group waits patiently for lunch to be served.

The Brewery gets loud with conversation.

Downtown Whiting Indiana is a neat place to visit.

Two very satisfied tourists.

Artist and resident Thomas Frank sharing more information  about the area.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Urban Prep Students On a Journey

Urban Prep students are on a journey to connect with the environment.  As part of that journey, Vice President Tom Shepherd, gave students Jerrett , Christopher, Malih , Ramano  and Aaron, along with  their facilitators Tiffany Mann and Rosa O'Connell, a tour of southeast Chicago.   Their exciting summer school program aims to connect urban students with nature and the environment.   The program is a collaboration between Urban Prep, Chicago State University and the Southeast Environmental Task Force.

The intent was to introduce them to our unique area where industry and nature have developed side by side and to allow them to see first hand, the impact our industrial past has had on our community and environment.  They visited Wolf Lake where they viewed the smoky haze of BP Amoco across the lake, they saw the on-going restoration work  of our wetlands and prairies and visited the landfill turned golf course long enough to do a photo shoot.  Culminating the event were lunch and follow up activities at Chicago State University.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Board Member Linda Cook is now an Indiana "Master Naturalist"

Board member Linda Cook completed her two month training for Indiana Master Naturalist. She received her Master Naturalist certificate and pin. The course is comprised of 10 classes of 34 hours total, including Project Learning Tree and Hoosier River Watch, two Indiana Department of Natural Resources citizen scientist courses. In order to become certified for the Indiana Master Naturalist Program, Linda had to devote 34 volunteer hours related to the environment. She completed 70 hours during the training period that covered work in Hoosier River Watch testing, greenhouse work for the Gibson Woods Nature Preserve and the Wild Ones annual plant sale, Lake County Indiana Master Gardener Association phone help line work, and Master Gardener annual plant sale preparations.

Also, Linda received recognition for 10 years of membership and community service and attaining her gold level in annual reading contributions within the Lake County Extension Homemakers Association, a leadership and educational development group. She brings skills from all the above groups to SETF."


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Into the Belly of the Beast

On Friday, May 17th, the Task Force led a group of tourists down more than 300 feet below lake level into the Deep Tunnel Project.  With the cooperation of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation Department, we were able to arrange a bus tour of both the tunnel and the ending reservoir. 

Starting at their Calumet waste water treatment facility, staff of  MWRD took the group down in an elevator the  portion of the tunnel project full of huge pipes, metal catwalks, pumps and electrical panels.  The air in the room was a tad musty smelling even though the ventilation system was pumping consistently.  Here we were told how the system worked, how the sewer water flowed through it and about the safety measures in place should a pipe ever leak or burst.

Next we headed over the Thornton Quarry, a quarry that has been in business since the early 1900's and the intended designation for flood waters.  The quarry contains Silurian reefs which formed when the Michigan Basin was covered in sea water more than 400 million years ago.

Today the Quarry consists of three large quarries connected by tunnels.  It produces aggregates,stone, sand, metallurgical stone, mineral filler and several products worth more than $40 million dollars a year.  Some of the products using the ground rock include concrete mix, fertilizers and asphalt coatings.  The southern quarry will be turned into the deep tunnel reservoir once the tunnel finishes connecting, the sides are reconfigured and the connecting tunnels are blocked in 2015. 

The bus ride down the steep incline into the quarry was a little hairy. Once on the bottom, our bus was dwarfed  by the height of the steep side walls and it could have easily driven through any one of the two feeding tunnels that were still in the progress of being blasted out.  Our guide, engineer Kevin Fitzpatrick, gave us a detailed overview of the project.  Because we weren't allowed off of the bus, Kevin disembarked to scoop up some of the 400 million old rock to pass out as mementos.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Earth Day Lake Calumet Hike

Twenty-five participants (along with 1 reporter & 2 Port District personnel) attended this "inside the fence" Lake Calumet Earth Day Hike from 10:00 am - 12:30 pm on Monday (22 April 2013). We met at the Harborside Golf Course parking lot, and then we visited both the east & west shores of Lake Calumet.

Quite a few birders & photographers were along for the trip, and we tallied 44 bird species. Most notable were at least 33 AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS (1 flock of 18, 1 flock of 15) circling over the Harborside parking lot upon our arrival. We also had great views of the active Lake Calumet BALD EAGLE nest from both the east & west shores. Other raptors included 1 NORTHERN HARRIER & 1 RED-TAILED HAWK (with a snake in its mouth) seen from the Harborside parking lot, and 4 TURKEY VULTURES at nearby US Bank.

At least 11 waterfowl species were seen, including 9 duck species. Other than large numbers of SONG SPARROWS and a single FIELD SPARROW few notable passerine migrants were observed. Two EASTERN MEADOWLARKS were heard singing on the property. As the trip was ending, a few observers spotted a pair of OSPREYS in flight (one carrying a large fish) from the Harborside lot. One of the Ospreys was being harassed by a Red-tailed Hawk. Interesting way to end the trip!
--Walter Marcisz


Monday, March 25, 2013

CSU Intern, Tiffany, Joins SETF on T2T Tour

On Saturday 3/16 I went a on a CIMBY Tour called Toxics to Treasures. There were two busloads of kids one lead by Rod Sellers and the other by Tom Shepherd. There were students from various high schools that attended. We began the tour at Wolf Lake where Tom and I discussed the Nike Missile and some important facts about the lake and the industrial aspect of the lake and why this was considered to be an important area in the Southeast Region. We then rode the bus around the landfills, the old factories, Harborside Golf Course and the marshes. Along the way we witnessed industry and nature co-existing in a very peculiar way. It was a very unique sight to experience. We were surprised to see a barge that just arrived from New Orleans carrying benzene and two swans swimming alongside each other in the marshland. The students were very bright and inquisitive kids that were a joy to be around. After the tour the kids headed over to the library for an activity. Despite the cold weather it was a very enjoyable day and an amazing experience.