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Cleanup crew would like Army Corps site in Worth to become parkland

Mike McElroy Worth's life safety officer points Saturday homes thare near Lucas Berg Nature Preserve.  |  Nick Swedberg/For

Mike McElroy, Worth's life safety officer, points Saturday to homes that are near the Lucas Berg Nature Preserve. | Nick Swedberg/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 29, 2014 6:27AM



An effort spanning generations to protect 74 acres of Worth land might be close to seeing legislation passed that would block it from becoming a dump.

Proponents say the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, if approved, would defund the Lucas Berg Natural Preserve as a disposal facility for the Army Corp of Engineers. For decades, Worth residents have fought to prevent the former sand quarry from becoming, at different times, a potential landfill and a dump for silt from the Calumet Sag Channel.

More than 35 people turned out on a chilly morning Saturday to collect trash left in the preserve near 111th Street and Southwest Highway.

Leased to the corps, the land is open to the public only twice a year for trash cleanup. A group of volunteers who want to see the land utilized as public space spent three hours hauling garbage bags full of pop bottles, wrappers and debris out of the preserve.

“What we would like is a park,” said Mike McElroy, the village of Worth’s life safety officer. “What we would like is fishing.”

Chain link fences surround the property, but some still manage to get inside. Burn marks from campfires dot open areas. Broken glass from beer bottles litter walking paths.

But the human presence is minimal inside the acres of wetland. Finches, woodpeckers, ducks and geese reside there. Growth has all but overtaken concrete slabs from old quarry operations.

A single concrete structure, covered in graffiti, stands out of place in nearly the direct center of the trees and marsh land.

Originally a torpedo sand and gravel pit, the site was bought in the 1970s by a private owner with the intention of turning it into a landfill.

Community members pushed back before a judge ordered work shut down after an Environmental Protection Agency permit was denied, McElroy said.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District bought the land from the private owner in the 1970s. The district leased the land to the corps as a potential spot to store dredged silt.

Concerns about pollutants from the dredged silt leaking into the aquifer that runs beneath Lucas Berg, or leaching into nearby area, prompted another pushback from Worth residents, McElroy said.

For now, the site sits in limbo.

McElroy, who is among a younger generation of residents hoping to see the land reclaimed, said the village is working with U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-3rd, on a bill that would remove the Army Corps funding connected with the preserve.

Steve Warner, Worth park board president, said if the corps no longer has a used for the land, he hopes the reclamation district would lease it to the park district.

It’s the dream of the park district to convert the land into a park, Warner said.

“Fifty years is long time to wait to know if someone is going to stick a landfill in your back yard,” McElroy said.



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