US Army Corps of Engineers
Chicago District

Frequently Asked Questions

Where does USACE dredge at Waukegan?

In the areas closest to the Lake. Right now USACE dredges nearly every year in the “Approach Channel” and adjacent “Advanced Maintenance Area”. 

Why does USACE dredge at Waukegan?

Wave action naturally moves sand along the coast of Lake Michigan. Sand tends to settle (shoal) at the mouth of Waukegan Harbor. Sand builds up and blocks the harbor entrance, causing unsafe conditions for ships, especially the large vessels (Lakers) that carry freight. USACE dredges the sand to keep the harbor open and ensure safe navigation conditions.

What happens to the sand USACE dredges?

USACE places the sediment in two places: 

(1) most of the sand is placed in the near shore (littoral zone or wave zone) south of the harbor. This area is called “sand mountain” by locals, but there’s no hill and you cannot see the sand. The sand is simply under the water in a location where it would naturally move to if Waukegan Harbor didn’t block it.

(2) when funding is available, USACE places the sediment in the near shore area north by Illinois Beach State Park. This is where the sand originates, and placing it back at that location is intended to lessen erosion of the shoreline.

Is the dredged sand clean?

Yes, the sand dredged at Waukegan Harbor is nice beach sand, chemically clean and generally free of debris. It is considered very high quality material. If it was not clean, USACE would not be able to place it in Lake Michigan. 

What testing or monitoring has been done to show that the sand is clean?

USACE follows the Great Lakes Testing Manual, a guidance document developed by USEPA and USACE.  Many sampling events have occurred in the past, and some of the most recent results can be found at the USACE project website https://www.lrc.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works-Projects/Waukegan-Harbor-Dredging/

USACE has never found high levels of contamination, including PCBs and asbestos, in the Approach Channel sand. The Approach Channel was not part of the OMC superfund site. The sand in the Approach Channel is similar to beach sand found all along the southern Lake Michigan coast. 

What about the PCBs at Waukegan Harbor?

In the 1980’s, it was discovered that a local industry had discharged oil containing PCBs into the Waukegan Inner Harbor. The Inner Harbor sediment was found to be contaminated with high levels of PCBs, and was declared a Superfund Site. It was also named an “Area of Concern” by the International Joint Commission. A major remediation project in the late 1980’s through early 1990’s cleaned up the highest PCB concentration material. USEPA Great Lakes National Program Office and Superfund worked together to do a subsequent project in about 2013 that removed remaining PCBs to trace concentrations. More information on the USEPA efforts can be found at:

https://www.epa.gov/greatlakes and at

https://cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/cursites/csitinfo.cfm?id=0500083

The PCB contamination was an issue for the Inner Harbor. The contamination never extended to the Approach Channel. Only trace levels were measured in the Outer Harbor. USACE dredged the Outer Harbor in 2014 and placed the material on the former Waukegan Coke Plant site as clean cover. There is no remaining known source of PCBs for the Outer Harbor and Approach Channel, and USACE has not detected PCBs during the most recent sampling.

What about the Johns Mannville site and the asbestos?

The Johns Mannville site is located north of Waukegan Harbor along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Asbestos containing materials were manufactured at the site. The site has been accused of being a source of asbestos in the lake and sand. The site is closed and capped. The Illinois Attorney General Office did a study on asbestos in beach sand, with the conclusion that Waukegan Approach Channel sand is not contaminated. Additional information on the Mannville Superfund site can be found at:

https://cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/cursites/csitinfo.cfm?id=0500197

What changes are being proposed to the dredging and why?

The Section 1122 pilot project that USACE selected includes beach nourishment and some ecosystem restoration measures at public beaches in four northern Illinois coastal communities (Lake Bluff, North Chicago, Evanston, and Glencoe).  In order to accomplish these goals, USACE will evaluate the potential environmental impacts of placing sand at the proposed sites and utilizing hydraulic offloading in order to be able to place the sand directly on the beach (currently we place it in the nearshore area using bottom dump scows).

In addition, USACE is considering dredging within the Outer Harbor, since the shoaling in the Approach Channel is beginning to extend into that area. The building shoal in the Outer Harbor is the same sand as found in the Approach Channel, and will eventually block ship traffic if not moved.

Will the public have an opportunity to comment on the dredging plan?

Yes, as part of the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process, the public always has an opportunity to comment on proposed actions. The draft evaluation would be posted on the USACE website as well as provided to the local library. Comments would be accepted in paper or electronic format.

When will changes to dredging occur?

Not for a while. USACE is only just looking at starting the NEPA process, which can take a year or more. Funding for future placement at other locations is not available at this time and it is unknown if and when it would be provided. But we've started the process early to ensure we have time to evaluate these options, including gathering comments from the public. 

Project Manager

Alex Hoxsie

Illinois Sand Management Working Group Fact Sheet

Latest News

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced in December 2018 that four Illinois communities will be the recipient of a very competitive USACE pilot program for the beneficial use of dredged materials.

The coastal communities of Evanston, Glencoe, Lake Bluff, and North Chicago, together, will be one of 10 recipients. The pilot program was established under the Water Resources Development Act of 2016, Section 1122, which requires the Corps to recommend 10 projects for the beneficial use of dredged material. 95 proposals were received nationwide from Feb. 8, 2018, to March 11, 2018.

Under the pilot program, the materials dredged from Waukegan Harbor, Illinois, will be used to provide public beach protection to the four Illinois coastal communities.

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