Tuesday, February 19, 2019

February 19, 1978 -- Deep Tunnel Assessment

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District
of Greater Chicago Photo
February 19, 1978 – The Chicago Tribune features an assessment of progress on the $7 billion Deep Tunnel project, opening with the statement, “Chicago’s multibillion-dollar Deep Tunnel – called the most expensive public works project ever devised – apparently will not achieve the flood control and pollution goals for which it was designed.” [Chicago Tribune, February 19, 1978]  After a month-long examination of the project, the Tribune and the Better Government Association conclude that the 132 miles of tunnels bored 200 feet below the city will achieve only modest goals … “A more pleasant environment for picnicking and boating along the Chicago waterways, some limited fishing in the waterways; and swimming and fishing in a short stretch of the Illinois River.”  The Chicago Sanitary District’s proposal for the project, which was begun in 1975, envisioned a two-part answer to the city’s water pollution and flooding problems.  A system of tunnels would carry sewage and storm water into three underground reservoirs, which would hold the unholy soup, gradually releasing it into treatment plants, where it would be cleaned up and gradually sent into area waterways.  But the federal government split the project into two phases, placing each phase under a separate bureaucratic arm.  Phase One, overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency would bring 110 miles of underground tunnels to the city and nearby suburbs.  Phase Two, administered by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, would pay 100 per cent of the cost of flood control work.  Without the second phase the plan will not work, critics say … and Congress has only authorized funding for the first phase of the gargantuan effort.  Vinton Bacon, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and the originator of the Deep Tunnel idea when he was the Sanitary District general superintendent from 1962 to 1970, says, “We saw the antipollution effect as a side benefit that made the project ever more worthwhile, but the flood storage had to be there to make the whole thing work.”  Phase One of the project was wrapped up in 2006, but the original skeptics of the scheme saw their views validated in early 2018 when a February 20 storm dropped more than two inches of rain on the city’s frozen ground.  The tunnels filled with water, as did the newly opened McCook reservoir that was built to hold wastewater until it could be treated.  With the 5.1-billion-gallon system filled to capacity, “leftovers from the storm surge began backing up in basements and pouring out of overflow pipes into the Chicago River and other area streams during the next two days.” [Chicago Tribune, March 15, 2018]  Phase Two of the project is not projected to be completed before 2029.  

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes
February 19, 1906 – Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes hands down a unanimous decision of the United States Supreme Court in which the jurists find that the City of Chicago does not pollute the waters of the Mississippi River to any great extent.  The Chicago Daily Tribune reports, “The decision throughout is a rebuke to the politicians in Missouri for their action in this case, because it shows that after all their labor they had been unable to establish, even by inference, that the sewage of the city of Chicago after passing through the drainage canal and the Illinois river was half as harmful to St. Louis as the sewage of that city is to towns and villages lower down the river.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, January 20, 1906] The court finds that there is virtually no evidence that would indicate the sewage of Chicago reaches the waterworks in St. Louis. In fact, the suit that St. Louis filed is, in effect, thrown back in the city’s face as “the court warns the Missouri city that if they had won their suit against Chicago many other suits would be instituted, and St. Louis would be held responsible for the contamination of the father of waters as far south as the Supreme court might care to recognize the injury to health.”  The court does not doubt that the Mississippi River is polluted and becoming more so.  Its decision absolves Chicago from blame for the pollution in the river around St. Louis as the justices indicate, “Where, as here, the plaintiff has sovereign powers and deliberately permits discharges similar to those of which it complains, it not only offers a standard to which the defendant has a right to appeal, but as some of those discharges are above the intake of St. Louis, it warrants the defendant in demanding strictest proof that the plaintiff’s own conduct does not produce the result, or at least so conduce to it that the courts should not be curious to apportion the blame.” Reaction in Chicago is swift as Chief Engineer Isham Randolph says, “It is a great victory and due in large measure to some pioneer scientific work which the sanitary district instituted.”

February 19, 1918 – Frank Lloyd Wright tells members of the Chicago Woman’s Aid at the Art Institute that he sees in Chicago “at once a despair and a great hope.”  [Chicago Daily Tribune, February 20, 1918] "A Chicago smokestack has more vitality as a work of art than the effete gray ghosts of a dubious past which now haunt the lake front at the foot of Monroe Street,” the architect tells his audience.  He continues, “Is anything uglier than dirt—unless it is noise?  We have both.  Some one defines dirt as ‘matter out of place.’  In this sense Chicago culture is just dirt—matter out of place in all its ugliness.  Chicago is Indian for onion—in name, as in reputation, unesthetic [sic].”  Wright suggests a new city seal, according to the newspaper’s coverage, a “shield trifoliate—on onion, beautifully emblazoned on the shield; beside the onion, on the right, a pig, rampant; at the left, a poet, also rampant.”  He blasts the building that houses City Hall, calling it a “big bluff in vain classic costing thousands a month for great columns that are a huge and expensive load to carry instead of carrying the load.”  Demanding a new vision to replace the old Beaux Arts style he sees as  out of place in the middle of the Midwestern prairie, he says, “We are plundering the old world of all its finery and dressing ourselves up in it as a kind of masquerade.  This is not culture in any real sense.”  In his conclusion, Wright states, “Only revolt can save the city for the culture that is for all time.  One thing Chicago must do; she must take her great heritage—the lake front – and shape it to her own liking.”  The eight-year-old City Hall against which Wright railed is pictured above in a 1915 postcard.

February 19, 2009 -- Full-out rant at the Board of Trade as CNBC commentator Rick Santelli rails against President Obama's mortgage bailout plan. "The government is promoting bad behavior," Santelli storms. "This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor's mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can't pay their bills?" Santelli follows up by suggesting that a modern Chicago tea party might consider dumping derivative securities into Lake Michigan. It was on this Thursday morning that a whole new era in American politics is born. Here's the segment, just for old time's sake . . 

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