Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

21° Evanston, IL
Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Early plans to fortify Evanston’s battered shoreline set to finish in 2024

Waves+approach+a+beach+as+they+pass+by+a+sloping+mound+of+rocks.
Shun Graves/The Daily Northwestern
City staff expect preliminary plans for rebuilding parts of its Lake Michigan shoreline, seen here near the dog beach, to finish in early 2024.

On Tuesday, Rob Johnson picked up a piece of driftwood from Clark Street Beach. Visiting the area from Owensboro, Kentucky for a business meeting, he said the souvenir showed signs of having washed up from the lake’s rushing waters.

That isn’t uncommon — Evanston’s lakefront is well worn. Everything from meteotsunamis to lake-effect snow beats up against the shoreline every day.

“It’s really important to keep this beautiful, natural and available to people,” Johnson said.

Now, city staff say Evanston is nearing the finish line in its preliminary plans to fortify its shoreline against the lake’s harsh waters.

Evanston started the project in the wake of severe storm damage in 2020, which caused erosion and widespread deterioration of the shoreline. Preliminary design work on rebuilding several shoreline sites should “theoretically” wrap up early next year, Project Manager Stefanie Levine said.

The city contracted with engineering firm SmithGroup in April 2022 to draft shoreline designs based on engineering studies and public input. The city has extended the contract completion deadline by more than a year to Dec. 31, 2024. It has also upped the original $333,000 cost to more than $460,000.

As the preliminary plans wrap up, however, questions have arisen about how the city will cover costs for the expansive project. Though SmithGroup will likely provide an estimate early next year, Levine said, a fire department estimate in 2020 pegged a $46 million price tag to repairs.

“We first need to prioritize the work, determine which beaches and shoreline are in most urgent need of repair and protection and proceed in an environmentally and fiscally responsible manner,” Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) said via email. “The Shoreline Repair project should be approached and developed as a multi-year project, spreading the costs out over numerous years.”

In 2020, Lake Michigan’s water levels reached near record levels. Along the Chicago-area shoreline, the rising lake left beaches and lakeside paths submerged. That year, Evanston made immediate repairs to the most damaged parts of its shoreline.

Water levels have declined since then. The once-submerged Evanston Dog Beach reopened earlier this year. But, variability in lake levels, as well as unpredictable extreme weather events, has the city on its toes as the shoreline continues to deteriorate.

Along much of Evanston’s shoreline lie mounds of rock called revetments. These structures have protected the shoreline from erosion, but they have worn down over the years.

“When it gets hit with waves, it absorbs the wave action and prevents the water from destroying whatever’s behind it,” Levine said. “Over time, after this stone gets hit over and over for many, many years by waves — and especially when the waves get bigger — it destroys the stone.”

Early designs introduce natural features like native plants and park pathways alongside reimagined revetments. For example, plans displayed in August show an expanded dog beach where plants take the place of an existing revetment. The drawing also shows a rocky breakwater placed off the shore.

Levine said the city will likely depend on grants to fund construction. The city faces a budget shortfall and other infrastructure needs as it also prepares for future extreme weather.

“Our lakefront is precious,” said Kelly, whose ward includes the dog beach. “Evanston residents have made it clear that there is a preference to maintain the shoreline and lakefront in as natural a state as possible.”

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