North Mill Creek restoration continues
After years in progress, work to restore a milelong section of North Mill Creek to its original state could move to a final stage.
Getting there would mean pulling the plug on Rasmussen Lake, a picturesque but far from pristine hidden feature in the Ethel's Woods Forest Preserve near Antioch.
The Lake County Forest Preserve District's planning and restoration committee on Monday recommended approval of another round of engineering work to produce the final design plans, construction documents and required permits to proceed.
But at a cost of nearly $120,000, investing in more work for an area that rarely has been seen by the public and may not be anytime soon was a source of debate as the district looks to tighten spending. The forest district acquired the property east of Route 45 and south of Route 173 in 2001 but has yet to open it to the public.
"Could we put off Phase 3 for a couple of years, and if we did that, at what effect?" asked committee member Steve Carlson of Grandwood Park. "Would we lose funding? Would it negate the old engineering?"
District staff emphasized the most difficult part of a process that began more than four years ago is complete, as all regulatory agencies involved agree on the next step. Finishing the last stage, even if the actual creek restoration is delayed, would have several benefits, according to district staff.
"The advantage for getting it completed is it puts us in a good position for any grants that come along," said Mike Fenelon, the district's director of planning, conservation and development.
The district in 2006 approved a study to review various alternatives to restore Rasmussen Lake, a milelong, 58-acre body of water, created in 1957 when the landowner built a dam on the south end of the creek.
But as pretty as it looks, the lake is among the poorest quality in the county.
"It's just a silt pond of carp," Fenelon said.
Rasmussen Lake has filled with about four feet of sediment, has poor water quality, no aquatic value, and eroding banks. It would cost at least $7 million to restore it to a properly functioning lake system, studies determined.
In early 2007, more studies were authorized to investigate the impact of restoring the stream. The result found bypassing the dam wouldn't have a significant impact downstream, Fenelon said.
To do that, a spillway would be removed and a pipe installed to let the water drain out of the lake. "There are things happening on the site. What we're talking about long term, is to recreate this meandering stream as it was in the 1950s," said Tom Hahn, the district's executive director. "Having the engineering plans done is a goal we should strive for because it would open up the opportunity for grants."
The overall project would cost about $2.9 million, including $400,000 for engineering.
"There is a value to completing a project to a certain point," said committee member Pat Carey of Grayslake. "I'm comfortable moving forward." Committee member Michelle Feldman of Deerfield was the only dissenter. The full forest preserve board will consider the recommendation Tuesday.
Future plans for Ethel's Woods could include a tunnel beneath Route 45 to connect with the adjacent Raven Glen Forest Preserve and eventually a trail system around the former lake.
Some committee members noted there will be tough decisions to be made regarding other projects throughout the county that are in various stages. Those will be reviewed at a special joint meeting to be scheduled with the board's finance committee.