NU officials still debating if more Lagoon permits needed

More than one month after being told Northwestern must file for additional permits to fill in one-fifth of the Lagoon, administrators still are reviewing if such approval is necessary.

Officials from federal and state agencies said they must grant NU permission before the university can continue with the project.

One of the organizations, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said NU must obtain their approval because of a 1961 law giving the Corps jurisdiction over Lake Michigan, and consequently, the Lakefill. Spokeswoman Lynn Whalen said the university would be violating the law by proceeding without the agency’s permission.

But Eugene Sunshine, NU vice president for business and finance, said NU officials are discussing if they need to file for these permits.

“You’re dealing with multiple jurisdictions,” Sunshine said. “You’ve got to be real careful with this kind of stuff.”

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the state’s Department of Natural Resources have requested information from NU about how the university plans to fill in the Lagoon.

Sunshine said administrators still are ironing out these details, as well as how to transport the fill material to campus.

If NU applies for the DNR permit, administrators would have to hold a pubic comment period for 21 days, said Tim Schweizer, a spokesman for the department.

The public comment period could be more important for securing the permit required by the Army Corps. Once NU submits the application, Army Corps officials would determine if the permit could be streamlined under the national or regional category, or if it requires a more individualized process, such as a comment period.

“When it’s a unique project – and it’s tough to say, but this sounds like a fairly involved project – an individual permit is required,” Whalen said. “But until we’ve received the actual permit, there’s no way to tell.”

Sunshine said despite delays caused by the additional permits, the university still plans to proceed with the project as soon as possible.

“We need to preserve the opportunity to build somewhere down the line,” Sunshine said. “I don’t have any reservations about trying to work on it or continuing to work on it.”