Tag Archives: lake county

How the Lake County Forest Preserve Does Things

On Monday, June 1, 2015 the Planning Committee of the Lake County Forest Preserves District (#LCFPD) voted to spend $100,000+ to plant 2600 native trees and shrubs in Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve. A deeply contentious issue, the vote sets in motion a set of actions that will eventually extinguish 52 acres of successful and unique grassland prairie and the wildlife it supports on the Lake Michigan shore. It is one small backward step for man and one small backward step for mankind.

No Plan. No Support.

The action was taken in the absence of an adopted Master Plan for Fort Sheridan. It was also approved in the face of widespread and vocal opposition. Dissent the District has attempted to stifle at its origin and not share with the board members when successfully expressed in public comment.

Coin of the Realm: Bullying

Although no blood was spilled, the bruises were evident as Board President Ann Maine and her staff spun a tale made of whole cloth, bullied and intimidated other board members who did not share her worldview.

Cart Before the Horse?

The public comment  and committee member questions focused on the one procedural issue:

How could the county move forward toward a contract to plant trees on the grassland before there was an approved Master Plan supporting that land management?

There was an audible sucking in of air in astonishment as President Maine exclaimed, with complete disdain for the democratic process, “If we waited for plans, we’d never get anything done.” This disregard for due process was echoed by the District’s Director of Natural Resources Jim Anderson who commented, “This is how we do it.” Meaning, of course, without the approval of the county commissioners or the support of its constituent public.

Shh! Nobody Likes Your Plan.

So besides overrunning the political process, President Maine and staff are withholding till September the outcome of public comment held through a structured online comment forum together with comments written at a well-attended open house.  And there’s a reason why.

What President Maine doesn’t want to share is the overwhelming rejection of either of their Concept plans A or B in favor of options that very much resemble exactly what Fort Sheridan Preserve provides today, a fine grassland habitat.

Is Ignorance Bliss?

With their vote today it would appear that the Planning Committee of the Lake County Forest Preserve District is comfortable ignoring its constituents and making insufficiently informed decisions. Thank you Commissioners Hart & Mathias for your rejection of this proposal. We regret your being intimidated for being “freshmen” commissioners. You demonstrated great insight & savvy not shared by your colleagues.

The matter goes before the Finance Committee on Thursday, June 4 and, if approved, to the full LCFPD Board of Commissioners on Tuesday June 9.

Fort Sheridan Master Plan Concepts – The Video

One thing I’ve learned about truth is that there are many versions of it. Each person interprets the world through his or her own lens. And that is their truth.

My truth is that our public preserve, Fort Sheridan, is about to be closed to the public and inaccessible to people with mobility problems who seek to visit the main attraction – the bluff and the lakefront. That the accidental prairie that has proved so successful as a habitat for rare grassland birds is about to be diminished and possibly ruined. Our state scientists don’t know what will happen to the bird habitat due to the planting of 50 acres of trees. And our County hasn’t even considered the issue. That’s my view. But don’t believe me.

Here’s a 13 minute video of the presentation of the concepts for the Fort Sheridan Preserve’s Master Plan. I’ve annotated some unclear parts and added some additional text commentary. I also edited out sneezing and coughing and some irrelevant editorial by the presenter expressing his own opinions.

Keep in mind just one more truth. Lake County Forest Preserve District hasn’t lifted a finger to engage the public in any discussion regarding the Fort Sheridan Preserve. No mechanism exists to provide them feedback other than writing the committee members. Only a vigilant public has pulled the covers back on their initiatives and shined the light on their activities. Now they are racing toward a public hearing on the Preserve scheduled for April 8 for 2 hours during a weekday rush hour. This is clearly intended to continue to keep the working public out of the discussion. This is what they have called, “a process that works very well.” I think they should be ashamed of their behavior. That’s my truth. Watch the video and find your own truth:

County Pushes to Make Fort Sheridan Preserve Inaccessible

Reduced parking, inconvenient public access and a look-the-other-way attitude toward people with mobility problems are the cornerstones of the proposed Fort Sheridan Master Plan being entertained by the Planning and Restoration committee of the Lake County Forest Preserves. The goal of the plan is, quite simply, to keep the public out of the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve.

Keep Out of Fort Sheridan
No Vision. No Input

Drifting along with plan concepts not based on any publicly adopted vision, the County has corralled the Master Plan for Fort Sheridan into two poor options. To arrive at this point the county has eschewed any public input into the plan process. Those who have sought to speak to the plans at committee meetings have been shoehorned into 3 minute speaking slots during a legally mandated public comment period. “We’re sorry; your time is up no matter what you have to contribute.”

It is noteworthy to observe that members of the Planning & Restoration committee, many of whom have never been to the Fort Sheridan Preserve, have unlimited time to weigh in on the best plan for this unseen property. Those who know can’t speak. Those who speak don’t know. It is unseemly. But I digress.

Clueless

Initially introduced in November 2014 after 2 1/2 years of inactivity, the first Master Plan drafts raised eyebrows due to its cluelessness regarding the emergence of a grassland bird population and a populist-inspired hawk observation program. Instead the county struggled with an isolated 3-year-old random request for a kayak launch (now discarded) and where to pee.

Hidden Agenda

Chronic whining by some Forest Board members that if people actually come to this remarkable property their presence will ruin it cleverly masked the reality that the County has a problem enforcing the no-swimming lake front and the crowds that it can and does draw on a very few days of the year. Public use issues at this Preserve are real but keeping people out is not the solution. They are, of course, wrong.

Reduced Public Access

So what remains in play is the ability of the public to actually visit this public lakefront property. Today there are 100 total parking spaces. Proposed plans reduce this to only 20 spaces near the lake shore. Another option puts a small parking lot over ½ mile from the coveted bluff and lake shore. All intended to send a clear message that the public is not welcome at Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve. This, of course, is wrong.

No Public Input

The County is conducting this Master Plan process without even a Tweet or a Facebook post let alone solicitation of interest on their website or other communications. Nevertheless, due to the sharp eyes of some County agenda-watchers, over 15 people showed up at the inconvenient Monday afternoon sub-committee meeting to express their interest and race through their concerns with a stopwatch monitoring their speaking time. The County considers this public input. This, of course, is also wrong.

Sneaky Urgency

The County, which has taken 3 years to get to this point, seems suddenly intent on resolving this matter before people are aware and spring & summer users of the Preserve can be engaged. Sneaky. And cowardly. And certainly not in the public interest.

Take Action Now

If you care about the outcome of the Fort Sheridan Master Plan, you will want to certainly be at any upcoming public discussion. But you need not wait. You should express your concern to each member of the Planning & Restoration Board. Not a Lake County resident? It doesn’t matter. Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve is a world-class property that transcends political boundaries. What you think matters.

Contact Planning & Restoration Committee Board Members:

Ann Maine, President LCFPD amaine@lakecountyil.gov
Bonnie Thomson Carter, Committee Chair  BCarter@lakecountyil.gov
Nick Sauer, Vice Chair  NSauer@lakecountyil.gov
Carol Calabresa   CCalabresa@lakecountyil.gov
Bill Durkin  BDurkin@lakecountyil.gov
Sandra Hart    smhart@lakecountyil.gov
Diane Hewitt   DHewitt@lakecountyil.gov
Sid Mathias     smathias@lakecountyil.gov
Craig Taylor     CTaylor@lakecountyil.gov
Tom Weber     TWeber@lakecountyil.gov

Army Should Act Quickly on Fort Sheridan Deed Change

Tuesday’s 3/13 meeting of the Lake County Forest Preserve District Board is a crucial moment – among many crucial moments – in determining the outcome of the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve. Those who favor public access of the open space and want to see the golf course mandate removed should be cautiously optimistic that the board will agree to drop the golf course mandate from the deed restriction.

Do the math

If you add the following:

  • ten forest board commissioners who voted “No” to not go forward with the RFP to seek a private developer plus
  • three commissioners who voted “Yes” but are actually opposed to the golf course plus
  • the commissioners who are running for office and have now publicly stated their opposition
  • Anne Bassi, a lame duck commissioner for whom the “process”  she embraced has finally led her to support lifting the deed restriction requiring a golf course

Add these up and, well, it’s a landslide in favor of seeking a change in the deed restriction that mandates a golf course. It’s a crucial moment. But this still isn’t over.

What’s next?

Hopefully with a unified  – maybe unanimous – vote,  the forest board now must address the Secretary of the Army to modify the agreement. The Army has no reason not to comply. Nevertheless, that’s the next step – and possibly the last – in this tortuous ordeal.

This matter has dragged on for years. And while I’ve always believed the “no golf” option was evident from the beginning, the three plus years of public conversations have only proven this assumption.

Now it is time to move forward quickly.  Land use uncertainty is not good for the neighborhood property values. And Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve must get into the queue for financial resources to manage it the way we hope it will be. It would be our expectation that the Army responds quickly to the request the forest board will make of them after they adjourn their meeting on Tuesday.

Forest Board to Vote on Lifting Fort Sheridan Golf Requirement

The following was enclosed in an email from District 23 County Commissioner Anne Bassi:

Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve Update

Board of Commissioner discussion and vote

March 13, 2012  10th floor  18 N. County, Waukegan

10:30 a.m. or 30 minutes after the Lake County Board meeting adjourns

Following the lack of response to the RFP (Request for Proposals) for private sector proposals to develop a golf course on the Ft. Sheridan Forest Preserve, the Board of Commissioners will discuss, and vote on, the next step(s) at our March 13, 2012 meeting.  The Board will consider our staff recommendation that we begin negotiations with the U. S. Army to amend the portion of the deed restriction that addresses a golf course.

The specific wording of the restrictive covenant on the use of the property is: “The land herein conveyed shall be a golf course and recreational open space in perpetuity and not devoted to another use …”  Forest Preserve District staff is recommending that we ask the U. S. Army to remove the portion of the covenant that reads “a golf course and”, while retaining the portion that states “the land herein conveyed shall be recreational open space in perpetuity and not devoted to another use ….”

The 259 acre Fort Sheridan Preserve was transferred to the Forest Preserve District by the U. S. Department of the Army in three increments between 1999 and 2001; the District received the final deed in 2002.  The property included Lake Michigan beachfront, bluffs, ravines, open space and golf course, and the transfer was subject to a deed restriction stipulating that use of the property is restricted to recreational open space and a golf course.  Forest Preserve maintenance of the Ft. Sheridan Cemetery was also part of the transfer agreement.

The Forest Preserve District has spent years exploring options for developing a golf course on the Ft. Sheridan property in a fiscally responsible way, and in compliance with the deed restriction that accompanied the transfer the property.  We have analyzed the financial implications for different types of courses to determine if there were any development options whereby user revenues would cover the cost of course development, operation, and debt service.

The golf market decline pre-dated the overall economy’s decline by around five years.  Perhaps this is a temporary change in the market, or perhaps it represents a systemic change in the way people currently live their lives and do business.  According to the National Golf Foundation’s article in November 2011: “Golf Industry Economy – “A 10-year snapshot”, “golf course over-supply has diluted the stagnant demand and created a highly competitive environment ….”   Echoing national trends, the Forest Preserve’s four courses have experienced declining rounds annually since 2004.

The Forest Preserve’s policy is that we do not subsidize golf facilities with general taxpayer funds.  Development, operating costs, and debt service for district courses are paid for from course revenues and accounted for in a separate enterprise fund.  The budget for funding Fort Sheridan has always included debt funding for development of the course, to be repaid from user fees.  The taxpayer dollars allocated to the Ft. Sheridan Preserve were set aside for trails, restoration, parking, bridges and roads open to the general public; information relating to this preserve on our referenda dating back to 1993 confirms this.  The funds expended to date on design and feasibility of the golf course were allocated from interest earnings and other non-taxpayer dollars.

To date, approximately $7.8 million has been expended at the Ft. Sheridan preserve, including restoration of Hutchinson Ravine (for which the District won national awards), Janes Ravine, roads, trail bridge, a Lake Michigan bike/walking trail connecting to the McClory Trail, a wood chip trail along the wooded ravine, a storm water management channel to protect the restored ravines from future erosion, education and historical exhibits, demolition of structures, dirt and debris pile remediation and litigation costs.

I understand that there are strong feelings and passions on all sides of the debate on this issue, and all of the arguments have merit.  However, at the end of the day, there are no viable options for building a golf course in a fiscally responsible way.  We need to bring closure to the golf course issue before we can develop a new master plan by bringing stakeholders together to vision the type of preserve that will be an asset for neighbors and a treasure for County residents.  I will be voting in favor of negotiating to have the covenant amended to remove the portion addressing a golf course.

  • For more information on the Fort Sheridan Preserve, the District has created a link on its homepage www.lcfpd.org
  • You can post your comments for Forest Preserve Commissioners at Fort@LCFPD.org.
  • A PowerPoint presentation reviewing the history of the 259-acre Fort Sheridan property can be accessed on the Forest Preserve’s website at http://www.lcfpd.org/docs/2011-3%20Fort%20Sheridan%20project%20history.pdf
  • For a “virtual tour” of the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve improvements to date, visit the link below where you can view images, learn about the preserve’s trails, educational exhibits, cemetery, lakeshore, natural resources and ongoing restoration efforts.

http://www.lcfpd.org/preserves/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.view&object_id=163&type=SF

  • Extensive online information about the military and natural history of Fort Sheridan is available at www.ExploreTheFort.org

Anne Flanigan Bassi
Lake County Forest Preserve Commissioner
District 23
abassi@lakecountyil.gov

The Story of the Canary in the Coal Mine

Image
Fort Sheridan Forest Preserves environmental diversity supports rare species like this Le Conte's Sparrow.

Just as we discovered a study showing how bird diversity can be used as a surrogate measure for residential property value, we’ve learned of an exciting bird finding at the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve. While conducting the annual Christmas Bird Count, a contingent of expert birders identified the presence of a Le Conte’s Sparrow and a Henslow’s Sparrow.

First the Bird Science

Neither of these birds is common at any time of year. But both are first EVER records for the Evanston-Northshore Christmas Bird Count since it began its annual survey in the early 1900’s. The Henslow’s Sparrow, on the list of Federally endangered species, represents the 3rd record on an Illinois Christmas Bird Count EVER (the other 2 were in 1950-51 and 1964-65).

So What? Who Cares?

Remember the history of bringing canaries into coal mines as an early-warning air quality alert system? Birds are indicators of environmental quality. Today we are mostly confronted with endangered and extinct species largely due to habitat loss and environmental degradation. To learn that rare species – of almost any kind – are newly found is a testament to the prospect of environmental rehabilitation.

Minimal Investment. Huge Return

In the few short years since the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve has undergone minimal land management, the prairie savanna some would prefer to know as the 5th through 9th hole of a golf course, has become a Mecca for nesting and migrating bird wildlife. There are some who see in this savanna of quick-growing rye and Black-eyed Susan, planted to stabilize the soil, merely a weed field. But they are wrong.

Home – For All Of Us

To some bird species it is home and others merely a relatively safe way station on a longer journey. But to us it is even more important. The presence and increase in bird life at Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve tells us the “canaries in the coal mine” are well and even thriving – a trending indicator of the kind of quality environment in which we hope to live.

It’s a good thought to go into 2012 when the future of the Lake County Forest Preserve – and the quality and diversity of our environment – is to be determined.

Thanks to Christmas Bird Count participants Ari Rice, Geoff and Chris Williamson and Sulli Gibson for their field work that made this post possible.

When Government Hides

One of the positive hallmarks of the sordid saga of the ill fated Fort Sheridan golf course has been a high level of transparency and public engagement as the Lake County Forest Board has moved glacially through its decision-making process. In fact, “process” has been the driver of public resolution and rides shotgun with transparency. Why else would 3 County Commissioners opposed to golf at Fort Sheridan vote counter-intuitively and create the slim majority vote necessary to go forward with the golf course? Because they supported a process.

So it was disturbing to a watchful public when Lake County published a meeting event and then moved it without public notice. So much for the process. Some will quickly rattle their Open Meeting sabers. Others will say that terms and conditions permitted this secretive change of venue. But that’s not the point.

The point is that an interested public has a right to follow a public issue. This is not new news. And there are laws in every state that serve to bring government out of the now-smoke-free backrooms and place it squarely in the spotlight for those who like to see how sausage is made.

Seven interested and concerned people showed up at Fort Sheridan at 10 AM November 15 for a meeting called by the Lake County Forest Board. As we have been for several years now, we were there to watch and listen. The group was split among golf course supporters (1) and open space/public access supporters (6). But no one from the Lake County Forest Board or staff showed up.  Instead, the meeting had been moved without public notice to Ryerson Conservation area. We’d been ditched.

Was this a public meeting? Was notification of intent to attend a prerequisite for getting the secret password to receive the meeting location token? Was Lake County suddenly oblivious to the public interest engendered by this controversial issue for over 3 years now? Or was our government hiding?

Transparency has been obscured. The process has taken a hit. We are only left with questions. Who did attend the meeting? What unforeseen circumstance caused the meeting to be moved from its publicly announced location? What other information in the County’s request for proposal for a golf course at Fort Sheridan was modified besides the meeting location? And why is Lake County government running from its public?