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Birds-eye view of battle for Montrose Beach shows no signs of compromise

Advocates for the two endangered piping plovers and organizers of MAMBY on the Beach appear no closer to finding a compromise.

Defenders of two Great Lakes piping plovers — endangered birds that have nested at Montrose Beach — want a planned music festival to change its location to avoid disturbing the birds.
Provided; Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A compromise still appears elusive in the fight over Montrose Beach.

Advocates for the two endangered birds who have nested there are still hell-bent on MAMBY on the Beach — the musical festival scheduled to be held at Montrose in late August — moving somewhere else.

Appearing on WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight” Monday, Carl Giometti of the Chicago Ornithological Society said the crowd that is expected to attend MAMBY is simply too great a risk to the future of the two Great Lakes piping plovers who recently nested on the beach.

“The problem is that numbers that are being discussed for this concert — 40,000 [attendees] over two days — there’s just no realistic way to control that amount of people,” Giometti said. “This population of piping plovers is too valuable to simply risk it. There are dozens and dozens of wonderful places you can get outdoor music in Chicago. There’s only one that these piping plovers nested.”

Jerry Mickelson of JAM Productions, which has put on the fest for the last four years at Oakwood Beach in Bronzeville, dismissed the idea that the crowd could not be contained.

“We can secure anything,” Mickelson said. “That’s not an issue.”

He added that JAM is currently exploring contingency plans to move the fest farther into the park space, away from the beach, because of water levels in Lake Michigan that are expected to rise.

Jerry Mickelson of Jam Productions in 2018.
Jerry Mickelson of Jam Productions in 2018.
Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

“We do not want to disturb any bird, any habitat, and we go to great lengths to make sure that we’re good neighbors,” Mickelson said, noting that 6,000 tickets have already been sold for the festival.

Mickelson noted that MAMBY organizers met last week with the Montrose Lakefront Coalition. He said that JAM has attempted to find middle ground, but to no avail.

“We addressed every one of their points but yet, they’re still not satisfied,” Mickelson said. “It’s kind of like, unreasonable people will never be able to strike a simple, reasonable solution.”

The endangered birds recently created a bowl-shaped nest in the sandy beach and laid four eggs — a rare and cherished occasion among birders. Because of their endangered status, a roped-off perimeter has been placed around their nest.

Volunteers from Chicago’s birding community have been standing guard in two-hour shifts during daylight hours — to keep dogs and others away and to chat up a curious public.

The eggs already laid have been turned over to the Lincoln Park Zoo, and Giometti said there could be more on the way.

“The male has been observed creating new nests and they’ve been engaging in courtship behavior,” he said Monday.