Lucas Berg Preserve on Worth's Wish List
The Lucas Berg Nature Preserve, on the western edge of Worth, may become available to the village as a recreational site and for a bit of development.
With the assistance of U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-3rd, the transfer of the land began last month to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Army Corps obtained easement rights from the MWRD in the mid-1970s and had planned as far back as 30 years ago to deposit in a lake silt dredged from the nearby Calumet Sag Channel.
That plan was never realized because the need never arose, and now the federal Water Resource Development Act, thanks to wording pushed by Lipinski, forbids the Army Corps from dumping the silt in the nature preserve's lake. That means the Army Corps has no need to use the 78-acre property.
The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District may sell the property, 7600 W. 111th St., and Worth is eager to acquire it, according to Mayor Mary Werner. She said much of the site is wetlands, and the village would leave most of it as is, using a sliver along 111th Street for commercial development.
"The MWRD is going to have to sell it. At this point, I don't know, is it worth $1 million or $100 million?" Werner said. "We have no way of knowing. What we're hoping is that the area that is wetlands, that you can't build on anyway, we'd like to see that maintained as a nature preserve. But if there is any opportunity to build, say on 111th Street, that could be good for the village."
She said Worth likely would not be able to acquire the land for at least two years.
MWRD spokeswoman Allison Fore confirmed that the sanitary district, which serves Chicago and Cook County, will be exploring options for the property.
"If the MWRD does not need the land for its own corporate use, then the MWRD is required to sell this land once the Corps re-conveys it to the MWRD," Fore said. "Once the stormwater issue has been evaluated, the MWRD will make this decision."
Fore referred to an ongoing plan with Worth in which some stormwater that collects in the Worth Woods subdivision north of Lucas Berg and west of Harlem Avenue may be diverted to the wetlands to deter flooding.
Worth Woods "is like a bowl," Werner said. "The water just sits there. We were lucky to obtain a grant form the MWRD to look at solving the drainage issue, and there's a chance Lucas Berg may be used to help relieve this issue."
Asked what the land may be worth, Fore said "the sale price will be determined by fair-market-value appraisals." As to whether Worth would get first crack at buying the land, she said, "the bids are open to all entities, public and private," adding that "there is no anticipated sale date at this time."
Worth Trustee Colleen McElroy said the nature preserve would be a great addition for the village.
"There's a big lake in the middle of it. It's really beautiful in there," she said.
Her husband, Mike McElroy, is the life safety officer for the village and its point man on preserving the property. He's the one who orchestrates the twice-a-year cleanup, all done by volunteers, of the Lucas Berg preserve and sees its future as nature preservation and recreational use.
"There's a lot of endangered plant species in there. And part of it is wetlands. Acquiring it would be huge for the town," Mike McElroy said, adding that the lake is fed
by an underground spring and used to be the Lucas Quarry about 100 years ago. "Before then, Native Americans fished along Stony Creek there."
Lipinski said he met last month with representatives of the Army Corps, MWRD and Worth "to discuss the future of the Lucas Berg site." He was committed to preventing Cal-Sag sediment from being placed there, he said.
"After that became law, the next step was for us to know that the Corps was definitely giving up the Lucas Berg site and transferring it (back) to the MWRD, which is happening," Lipinski said. "The lease process takes a bit of time, but the Army Corps has sent a letter to the MWRD saying they are transferring the property back to them."
Lipinski conceded that "there are still a lot of questions about what to do with the land. It's not my decision as to what happens now. It really is up to the MWRD and Worth. I do know it may be used to help alleviated some drainage problems in Worth, but we're just at the start of the discussions.
"There are a lot of people who want to see a nature preserve there ... It's a wetlands area, so certain rules apply to those. Most of that land would have to be maintained as wetlands. Some say they want it to be developed. I don't want to get involved in the debate. That's not my role at the federal level."
Mike McElroy is determined to keep the land in its natural state, saying "it would be fantastic" to see it used for recreation. Although the property is fenced off and has "no trespassing" signs clearly visible, McElroy said locals have used it for recreational fishing for years.
"There are 30 or 40 holes in that fence that are used by fishermen to get inside. It's chock full of fish — bass, rock bass, crappie and sunfish," he said.
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