‘Perfect Storm’ hitting Rogers Park lakefront beaches

The city is set to unload 10,000 cubic yards of boulders to try to slow erosion at Juneway Beach.

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City workers unload boulders in an effort to slow erosion and protect the shoreline at Juneway Beach at the northeast tip of the Rogers Park neighborhood, Thursday afternoon, Nov. 21, 2019.

City workers unload boulders in an effort to slow erosion and protect the shoreline at Juneway Beach at the northeast tip of the Rogers Park neighborhood, Thursday afternoon, Nov. 21, 2019.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Lazy ripples rolled across the lake in front of Barbara Westfield’s condominium, with only the distant smudge of a passing motorboat disturbing the quiet.

A heap of sandbags at the bottom of some outside steps told another story; so did the polycarbonate shields covering Westfield’s hurricane windows. A few hundred feet to the north, shattered concrete slabs tilted. Retaining walls looked ready to buckle.

“It’s like Titanic, The Meg and The Perfect Storm all rolled into one,” said Westfield, referring to a trio of movies depicting ocean disasters. Westfield has lived in her second-floor Rogers Park condo, just south of Juneway Beach, since 1994.

Waves booming against her windows — some loud enough to awaken her from slumber — are a fact of life here. In the past, they came once or twice a year. Now, thanks to near-record-high lake levels, the waves come every two weeks or so, she said.

City crews planned to begin arranging boulders Monday to help protect the lakefront until they can come up with a more permanent solution. The work is expected to last four to five weeks at each site, city officials said. They did not have a cost estimate for what they called “emergency work.”

Ald. Maria Hadden (49th), whose ward includes Juneway and Rogers beaches, said this week that she doesn’t have an exact price tag either, but that “it’s a couple million dollars worth of work at least.”

While lake levels tend to fluctuate naturally with the seasons, above-normal precipitation since spring 2018 has pushed the lake height to just inches shy of the 1986 record, according to the National Weather Service. Officials began keeping records in 1903. All that water, coupled with two powerful storms in October and earlier this month, have accelerated the beachfront erosion.

“In the past, maybe you had 6-foot waves hitting the shoreline, which would have been no big deal, but now you have a 12-foot waves hitting the lakefront,” said Vasile Jurca, a civil engineer with the city’s Department of Transportation, which is working with the Chicago Park District and the Army Corps of Engineers on the lakefront repairs.

Hadden said there’s been a “small amount” of opposition to the boulders.

“People who’ve lived here for decades, they love having access to the lake. ... It’s a thing that’s a defining feature of Rogers Park,” Hadden said.

A more permanent solution would require something similar to what was completed in 2016 at Fullerton Avenue Beach, where about 5.8 acres of park space was added, contained within a concrete-and-steel sea wall.

Jurca said the city is waiting for the release of federal money to begin a feasibility study for a long-term shoreline plan along some eight miles of the lakefront, including the Rogers Park neighborhood beaches.

But Robert Armband, who lives in the same building as Westfield, worries the erosion could eventually lead to the property being condemned.

“Right now, everything along this beachfront is collapsing,” he said, walking near the shattered concrete walkways close to his home.

He eyed a lakefront building just north of his, where plastic sheeting billowed in empty window frames.

“That’s a pretty risky investment at this point,” Armband said.

What she’d like to see, Westfield said, is a sea wall that protects not only park land but private property, too.

She said she and her neighbors have approached city and federal officials, who told them, essentially, that they’re on their own.

“The city is here to protect the public infrastructure,” Jurca said. “If my gutters get clogged at my house or my sewer backs up, it’s my responsibility.”

The pounding surf isn’t likely to let up anytime soon. The Army Corps of Engineers is predicting high lake levels through the winter.

“It can be nerve-wracking,” said Westfield. “But this building was built in 1922. So it has seen the ups and downs. It’s built like a Sherman tank.”

And, as she stared toward a fog-shrouded horizon, delighting in a beachfront community that brings kayakers, canoeists and people on surfboards, she said she has no plans to move.

“We’re all crazy. We love it here. It’s like a resort,” she said.

An aerial view of erosion work on Lake Michigan shore near Juneway Park.

Chicago will install large boulders to help protect the shoreline at Juneway, Rogers and Howard beaches.

Chicago Department of Transportation

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