Friday, April 22, 2016

MWRD: Ship Canal and Collateral Channel

While studying the C&IW bridge, I learned from Historic Bridges that the canal slip it goes over is named the Collateral Channel. To understand the Collateral Channel, we need to understand the West Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago River that existed before the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal was built. This 1916 Map shows that the West Fork still existed 16 years after the CSSC was opened. It is now filled in except for a "bump" in the canal with irregular sides, which was probably left as a turning basin. The straightness of the west end of the branch indicates a Ship Canal was dug to extend the waterway for more industrial development similar to the way Ogden formed Goose Island by digging the channel on the east side to create more water-served property.

This 1897 Map confirms a canal was dug starting around 39th and Central. It indicates that the South Branch Dock Company relocated the South Branch when it worked with CB&Q to build an industrial park in the 1860's. The map also shows that work was done on the east end of the branch to straighten it and connect it with the main channel of the South Branch Dock Co. The 1916 map indicates the Ship Canal went West almost to Harlem Avenue.

The modified West Folk was long enough that I need two aerial photos to cover what was left of it in 1938.
1938 Aerial Photo from ILHAP, west

1938 Aerial Photo from ILHAP, east

The Collateral Channel was dug so that the West Fork east of the channel could be filled in making land that could be sold while allowing the industries west of it to still have use of the Ship Canal. If you zoom in on the "west" photo, you can see the Ship Canal was filled in west of Cicero Avenue. You can also see open hopper cars just east of Cicero Avenue. These would be on the C&IW.

Unfortunately, the Collateral Channel is now stagnate water that smells if there is not a wind to blow the stink away.

About six years ago, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago gave serious consideration to a solution: capping the area and installing a wetlands project.
According to a 2008 public notice about the project posted by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the MWRD and researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago found that sediment in the channel was highly contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons “at a level that is of significant concern for ecological health and human health.”
Alarming words, yet no action was taken. (SunTimes)
Patrick Engineering evidently did the 2008 wetlands study that MWRD paid for and then ignored.

The Little Village Environmental Justice Organization has offered to the MWRD to use Boy Scouts to help clean up the channel and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal itself between the Collateral Channel and Bubbly Creek. The MWRD has proposed filling up the channel with rocks and making a small park. Hopefully the rocks will be deep enough to keep the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons away from the kids playing in the park. (HispanicTimes, ChicagoRegionTreesInitiative)

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