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Lightfoot wants emergency declaration from FEMA to repair $25M in storm damage to shoreline

The mayor said the “first critical next step” is to secure the funding needed to bankroll a “needs assessment” by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That report will pinpoint “future work” to protect the lakefront and preserve it.

Colonel Aaron Reisinger, left, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, center, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, right, survey the damage done to the lakefront at La Rabida Park,
Colonel Aaron Reisinger, left, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, center, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, right, survey the damage done to the lakefront at La Rabida Park,
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot Friday put a $25 million price tag on the January storm damage to Chicago’s lakefront and asked for a quick emergency declaration from FEMA to free up federal resources to rebuild it.

With Lake Michigan already four inches above its 30-year high and more than five weeks of winter yet to go, Lightfoot said fast federal action is needed to free up funding for a job that Chicago simply cannot do alone.

The mayor said the “first critical next step” is to secure the funding needed to bankroll a “needs assessment” by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That report will pinpoint “future work” to be done by the agency to protect the lakefront and preserve it for generations to come.

City agencies have also joined forces on a “threat assessment” to identify “areas facing the most urgent risk,” the mayor said.

That includes South Shore and the north lakefront.

“We had … several blocks off the lakefront where the streets themselves were flooded. Property damage was being done to buildings,” the mayor told reporters at a news conference at La Rabida Hospital, 6501 S. Promontory Dr.

“And on the North Side, we’ve just seen beaches disappear and flooding in underground garages. We have some concerns about what’s happening to the foundations of different buildings. It’s an issue up and down the lakefront. Those areas that were already reinforced are holding and the system is working. But we have a lot more lakefront that’s not covered.”

Col. Aaron Reisinger, commander of the Chicago district for the Army Corps, said 9.2 miles of shoreline protection work has already been completed and he’s “extremely proud” of the “resilience” it showed “through this time of elevated risk.”

Reisinger said he looks forward to moving “the next phase of that project.” But a federal study must come first to “extend the protection of the Chicago shoreline” and establish a “framework for how we approach shoreline protection and shoreline resiliency for the long-term.”

But what about the politics of federal funding? Won’t Lightfoot’s outspoken criticism of President Donald Trump and the president’s constant bashing of sanctuary cities in general and Chicago in particular stand in the way?

“I hate to bring up politics, but I will,” said U.S. Senate Dick Durbin, the Senate’s Democratic whip.

“It’s not just 5,200 miles of [Lake Michigan] shoreline. It’s hundreds of electoral votes. Take a look at the Great Lakes states and take a look at the target states that the presidential candidates are gonna focus on in the electoral college. And you’re gonna see that they coincide.”

The January storm brought 55 mph wind gusts and waves up to 20 feet crashing down along the shoreline, closing streets and flooding beaches. Rogers and Howard beaches in Rogers Park were shut down entirely in the wake of the storm.