Harbor History

  • In 1850, the little community of Waukegan began negotiations with the State of Illinois and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a small commercial harbor off the shore of Waukegan.
  • To the south, the city of Chicago was fast becoming the transport center of the nation sending manufactured goods and materials to the east coast, the southern states of the United States, and the newly opened west.
  • As the population of Chicago expanded northward, to support the growth, so did the need for manufacturing and distribution sites.
  • By 1890 a vibrant, varied, and skilled labor force was producing a sound multifaceted economic base for the Waukegan area, which was connected to Chicago by both rail and lake shipping.
  • Industries used the common manufacturing practices of their day to produce steel, barbed wire, leather, concrete light poles, refined sugar, motors, etc.
  • The harbor was further developed and expanded to meet the growing demand for goods transport in the 1890’s.  The industrial site grew and expanded into the early 1960’s.
  • Some of the common manufacturing practices in place during that time had an adverse impact on the environment and prevents the community from enjoying the full potential of the natural resources available at the Waukegan lake front.
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for maintaining the Federal Channel in the harbor.  Due to one hundred years of accumulations of heavy metals, and later PCB’s, the Corps has not been able to carry out the maintenance dredging due to sediment contamination.  Waukegan Harbor was not alone in experiencing these problems, which occurred in harbors and river ways throughout the Great Lakes.
  • In the 1980’s the International Joint Commission (IJC) undertook the task of identifying the major sources of pollution affecting the Great Lakes. Forty-three (43) major Areas of Concern (AOC) were identified within Great Lakes watershed. Waukegan Harbor is one of the 43 AOC’s. Six (6) beneficial use impairments (BUIs) were identified in the AOC.
  • In 1990, under the guidelines set down by the IJC, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) helped to form the Waukegan Harbor Citizens’ Advisory Group (Waukegan Harbor CAG).  It has to include corporate, governmental, shipping, environmental and public representatives.
  • The CAG has 34 member organizations, 17 associate member organizations, plus private citizens and others who attend CAG meetings just to stay well informed on the various cleanup activities in progress within the Area of Concern.
  • Under the guidance of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) the Waukegan Harbor CAG progressed through the three (3) investigation and analysis study stages required by the IJC.
  • Dredging was identified as the most effective means of removing PCBs from the harbor. After the first environmental dredge in the 1990s, it was believed the  majority of the PCB’s within the actual harbor were removed.
  • The harbor specific fish consumption advisory was lifted in February of 1997, however monitoring of the harbor fish continues on an annual basis.
  • In 2006, a new harbor specific fish consumption advisory was issued because PCB concentrations were found to have increased in fish samples taken from the harbor.
  • On September 26th, 2012 the final environmental dredge began. The goal is to reduce the concentration of PCBs in harbor bottom sediments to 0.20 ppm or less.
  • The six (6) designated beneficial use impairments are in the process of being removed form the AOC.

Environmental dredging was completed on July 8th, 2013. Navigational dredging of the harbor, utilizing Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) funding on USEPA’s Superfund contract, was initiated on July 8th. The objective of the work was to dredge to a depth of 18 feet in the navigational channel of the entrance channel and inner harbor areas.