Dredging at Waukegan Harbor on Lake Michigan is a complicated matter.
PCB contamination of inner harbor sediments and relatively clean sediments
moving along the lakeshore have together raised some interesting dredging
and disposal issues. For nearly three decades, navigation-related dredging
has not happened in the inner harbor thus forcing commercial vessels
to operate at uneconomical drafts. The sediment problem and its remediation,
as well as disposal of other less contaminated material, have been factors
influencing the dredging situation. Even the federal Superfund program
relates to the dredging decision-making process at this Illinois port.
Its status as an Area of Concern (AOC), with a committed Waukegan Harbor
Citizen's Advisory Group and increasing attention from federal and state
agencies augurs favorably for a solution to its dredging and sediment
The harbor at Waukegan is located midway between Chicago and Milwaukee.
The harbor entrance or outer harbor silts in on a continuing basis due
to littoral drift of sand from beaches north of the harbor entrance.
The clean sand is removed as outer harbor maintenance and is disposed
of in open water at "Sand Mountain," located about 2000 feet south of
the harbor entrance in 6 to 12 feet of water. The Corps of Engineers
indicates that dredging volume ranges from 30,000 to 50,000 cubic yards
per year. The cost in 1998 for dredging 39,000 cubic yards was $375,000.
A potential beneficial use of this material has been discussed whereby
the sand would be redeposited as beach nourishment at Illinois State
Beach Park or at a dune area near Waukegan City Park.
A unique feature of Waukegan Harbor is that it is a "slack harbor,"
as compared to many other Great Lakes harbors that are outlets for rivers
or streams carrying sediments. In those cases where sediments are confined
to a particular area and do not accumulate very quickly, dredging can
usually be accomplished without much difficulty. However, in Waukegan's
inner harbor case, navigation-related dredging last occurred in 1972.
A principal problem was the discovery of serious PCB contamination of
sediments resulting from prior industrial activity. The designation
of part of the harbor bottom as a federal Superfund site led to a sediment
remediation project in which 300,000 pounds of material were dredged,
heat treated and placed in nearby sediment containment cells - completed
in 1994. The widely-acclaimed result was a 90 percent reduction in the
PCB contamination. One positive outcome was the removal of the Waukegan
Harbor fish consumption advisory in 1997.
The remaining PCB contamination has complicated the commercial navigation
dredging process for Waukegan Harbor but other factors contributed.
A parallel issue was the need to confine the remaining material to be
dredged from the inner harbor. The Waukegan Port District, with limited
financial capacity, and the Corps of Engineers had been unable to agree
on a local sponsorship agreement for a disposal option. Since no conventional
confined disposal facility (CDF) exists, one would have to be built
with a local cost share or some other innovative solution would have
to be considered.
Implications for Commercial Navigation
The inner harbor is authorized for a commercial navigation depth of
23 feet but is now at 16-17 feet. Major users of the port include building
product manufacturers that rely on waterborne transport and recreational
boaters. For those commercial vessels making Waukegan port calls, the
restricted draft translates into inefficient operations with an up to
40 percent reduction in potential cargo capacity. This circumstance
often requires vessels to off-load cargoes in Milwaukee in order to
visit Waukegan. Other factors complicate decisions to off-load cargoes
such as Lake Michigan water levels and wind direction. For example,
a sustained easterly wind can raise harbor levels by a number of feet.
These issues pertain to the economies obtained through shipping by water
as well as safe vessel operation.
A Possible Solution
The Corps of Engineers has completed a reconnaissance report for the
harbor dredging project which estimates that 300,000 cubic yards of
coarse grain sand, sediment, and clay would be placed in either an upland
or in-lake CDF. As the harbor is deepened, the Corps estimates that
dredging would reach a layer of uncontaminated clay that can be used
as a cap for the CDF. One identified site is a thirteen-acre in-lake
area south of the Waukegan Port District marina which was recommended
in earlier studies. A second site is upland at the vacant Johns Manville
(JM) property. This property has an asbestos-contaminated Superfund
site containing a sizeable settling pond that could accommodate the
harbor material as well as JM building demolition debris. JM sees the
dredged material as a source of filling and capping material that would
also yield savings for the dredging project. The Waukegan Harbor Citizen's
Advisory Group, the Corps, U.S. EPA and the state are presently discussing
the JM site as a favored alternative to the in-lake CDF.
For the Waukegan Harbor situation, there has been considerable discussion
about the differences between state and federal regulations applying
to dredged material. If the material is considered polluted at any level,
upland disposal falls under State of Illinois solid waste regulations.
In addition, disposal of dredged material with low level contaminants
such as the harbor's estimated 1-11 ppm of PCBs at an existing Superfund
site complicates the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory
agreements in managing the site. Also, the local sponsor of the CDF
could have a financial liability if the CDF does not perform to either
state or federal standards. This liability issue has created a new market
in the insurance industry for liability protection for a CDF sponsor.
This new insurance "tool" is considered a costly "must" in planning
for this type of CDF. The Waukegan Harbor dredging project is a prime
opportunity to review the need for regulatory change and improve coordination
between states and the federal government.
In summary, this dredging project will help Waukegan gain an efficient
port and conceivably investment in new port facilities. Waukegan can
achieve de-listing as an AOC and improve its prospects for redevelopment.
Beneficial use of dredged material can improve a Superfund site with
cost savings at the site and for the dredging project. The City will
gain from a well-coordinated and comprehensive plan for improving valuable
lakefront property. If regulatory obstacles can be overcome, the dredging
of contaminated sediments, from the inner harbor will result in widespread
and lasting benefits to the area and its residents.
Note: This case study was prepared during the summer of 1999.
For further information:
Jean B. "Susie" Schreiber
Waukegan Harbor Citizen's Advisory Group
152 Glenwood Ave.
Winnetka, IL 60093
Waukegan Port District
P.O. Box 620
55 S. Harbor Place
Waukegan, IL 60079
Great Lakes Commission
Eisenhower Corporate Park
2805 S. Industrial Hwy, Suite 100
Ann Arbor, MI 48104-6791