Is the Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal now protected from closure?
February 22, 2012 9:16 AM   Subscribe

The Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal has just been named to the National Register of Historic Places. Will this complicate efforts to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan?

The CSSC is part of the public works project that allowed the flow of the Chicago River to be reversed. There is serious concern that it could serve as a route for silver carp and bighead carp to enter Lake Michigan and gain a foothold in the Great Lakes; there is currently an electric fish barrier in the canal, and there have been several calls for the canal to be sealed off entirely.

Would the canal's placement on the Historic Register preclude closing it off from Lake Michigan? Could this be an end-run around environmentalists -- and other states who are trying to protect the lakes from invasive species?
posted by me3dia to Science & Nature (5 answers total)
Being placed on the National Register of Historic Places does not cast a shroud of protection around the subject. There's a depressingly long list of buildings, for example, which were placed on the Register and later demolished.
posted by Atreides at 9:23 AM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Legally, the National Register offers no real protection. Its major benefits are publicity and some tax credit and/or grant eligibility. What is needed to protect an historic structure is a local authority with appropriate enforcement powers. Chicago has this in the Landmarks Commission, for instance.

For the CSSC, it would seem to cross multiple jurisdictional lines, but the whole is owned and operated by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, which I believe is an independently chartered entity under the State of Illinois (corollary would be a school district, which is not usually part and parcel of the city where it's located). There doesn't appear to be a statewide landmarks authority, so any such powers would reside in the state legislature itself.

In short, I really doubt the state would ever designate this key utility as a landmark in any way that would preclude keeping it open or closing it, depending. The political future of something like this is so sensitive that there would almost have to be a battle royal.

In any event, recognizing something as historic has very little to do with whether it is kept operating. Historic highway tunnels have been converted to use as bikeways, for example. Historic wooden bridges no longer carry road traffic. And so on.
posted by dhartung at 10:58 AM on February 22, 2012

Best answer: While Atreides is mostly right, the listing does mean that Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act will come into play for any Federally funded, assisted or licensed projects involving the Canal. Section 106 requires that historic and cultural resources receive "consideration" in Federal projects, which basically means review and mitigation, where possible, though it does allow for adverse effects to be tolerated when the benefits of the project outweigh the historic significance. Here's a brief rundown of the Section 106 process. At the very least, it could potentially serve as a delaying tactic. That delay is often one of the benefits of Section 106 when it comes to a preservation project, but it has occasionally been used for less savory purposes.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:59 AM on February 22, 2012

I should add, just about any project involving waterways requires approval from the US Army Corps of Engineers, and therefore is considered a Federal project.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:09 AM on February 22, 2012

Best answer: Oh, it just occurred to me -- Section 106 requires that all historic and cultural resources be considered, even ones that are not listed. If they had really wanted to delay the proceedings, they should have not listed it and then asked for a formal Determination of Eligibility from the National Park Service once any closure project was underway.

I used to be a preservation professional, so this is all coming back to me in fits and starts. You should probably get in touch with someone at the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency for more info.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:01 PM on February 22, 2012

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