ABOUT THE FACILITY
Blue Island’s SEPA (Sidestream Elevated Pool Aeration) Station is one of 5 facilities of its kind constructed by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) in the early 1990s. Although this is a relatively recent addition to our city’s built environment, it was a groundbreaking and award-winning project when undertaken in the latter part of the 20th century. While some of these facilities aren’t accessible to the public, Blue Island’s is one of the few that are, with the manmade waterfalls surrounded by what was once a beautifully-appointed and well-maintained public space. Beyond their stunning aesthetic, the purpose of the waterfalls is to add oxygen to the slowly-moving water of the Cal-Sag Channel – cutting down on odors and improving & protecting fish populations.
The park has fallen into disrepair in recent years, with signs of neglect and vandalism everywhere. Graffiti is an issue in multiple areas, the once-landscaped grounds have turned to overgrown weeds and grass in most parts, and volunteer-driven projects are some of the only maintenance and beautification efforts in motion.
Beyond that, there has been little to no effort to enforce the nighttime closure of the facility, when it’s likely that much of the littering and vandalism takes place. Broken glass, garbage, and signs of drug use are routinely seen in all areas of the park, much of which is obscured from view due to earth that was built up around the waterfalls and central path; a major landscape design flaw that continues to plague this area.
Though the facility is not currently in danger of being demolished or rendered unusable, its issues with safety and blight have long kept this park from being a destination for recreation and relaxation for residents and visitors. As one of Blue Island’s most visible landmarks along the Rock Island commuter line, its deteriorating condition serves as a black eye for our community to hundreds, if not thousands, of people each day.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
There are some simple initial steps that MWRD and the City of Blue Island can take to make this a safe, peaceful, and beautiful place for the community and visitors. We encourage these entities to engage in conversations regarding these subjects and beyond, and will reach out to our elected officials to inform them of the facility’s challenges and what we think can be done to address them:
Enforce the nighttime closure of the park
It’s likely that most vandalism, littering, alcohol consumption and drug use happens during the nighttime hours, and increased enforcement of this policy (which is posted in multiple locations surrounding the park) would drastically cut down on these activities.
Implement a basic landscape maintenance plan
Thanks to efforts from BIHS and our local partners (Val Kehoe, Blue Island Chamber of Commerce, Blue Island Arts Alliance, Guildhaus, & Friends of the Chicago River), there are now two gardens with native plants to welcome visitors to the park. Of course, we’ve also relied on volunteer efforts to maintain those gardens and clean up trash, hopeful that someday MWRD and the City of Blue Island will step up their commitments to the community by taking over those maintenance tasks and expanding on that beautification project.
There are also areas of the park that are rarely, if ever, receiving even the most basic of maintenance. The grassy hill along the Cal Sag Channel is often overgrown and the grass on the terraces opposite of the waterfalls is also often left to grow unchecked. If MWRD or the City of Blue Island cannot keep up with the maintenance demands of this facility, it should be contracted out.
Install permanent garbage cans
The garbage cans that have been placed in the park are often overflowing or knocked over, and many of them are repurposed plastic drums. The City of Blue Island recently placed several receptacles the lined Western Avenue for many years, and although they’re an upgrade from what was there, these pieces are rusting and likely near the end of their life span. The installation of fixed garbage cans throughout the park are a necessity, and a plan to routinely empty them needs to be implemented.
Install security cameras
There are currently no security cameras on site.
The lighting is dim and there are an insufficient number of fixtures to properly illuminate the park. It appears as if many, if not all, of the fixtures in place are what were originally installed – at more than 30 years old, it’s likely that they’ve exceeded their life span.
Implement basic safety measures
As we mentioned earlier, much of the grounds are obscured by grassy hills that make it impossible to see what’s happening from outside the park; even when you’re inside, the views are obscured to and from the sunken walkway. Although these features create a dramatic effect for park goers, we believe the size of those hills can be reduced to improve visibility into and around the park.
The steep hill along the Cal Sag Channel between the pumping station and the waterfalls terminates along the waterfront with piles of gigantic, jagged rocks and overgrown vegetation. Conversely, the waterfront on the other side of the pumping station features a concrete retaining wall with a decorative wrought iron fence. A project to continue that retaining wall and fence to the rest of the waterfront would remove obscured, hidden nooks and create a gentler grade to the waterfront with a proper, safer barrier from the water.
Construct a fence with gates around the facility
Almost the entire perimeter of the park is unsecured and accessible at all hours of the day and night. A fence with lockable gates would keep people from accessing the grounds after the park is closed.
Enforce parking regulations in the adjacent Metra parking lots
After-hour visitors often park and sometimes congregate in the Metra parking lots immediately to the north and east of the park. Ticketing and/or towing those cars would discourage that activity.