Illinois Beach State Park first project in Illinois with WEDG verification

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Chicago Construction News staff writer

The Illinois Beach State Park shoreline stabilization project has achieved Waterfront Edge Design Guidelines (WEDG) verification, the Waterfront Alliance has announced.

WEDG is a national rating system and set of guidelines that pushes the bar for creating resilient, ecological, and accessible waterfront design. The Illinois Beach State Park Shoreline Stabilization Project is the first freshwater project and fourteenth overall to meet WEDG’s gold standard.

The $73 million shoreline stabilization earned the gold standard under the guidelines outlined in WEDG’s Version 3.0.

Structures were constructed in three locations to preserve 2.2 miles of shoreline and mitigate growing erosion concerns. Funding came from the Governor’s bipartisan Rebuild Illinois capital plan, the largest capital plan in state history.

Design lead Moffatt & Nichol documented 22 stone breakwaters to protect approximately 2.2 miles of beachfront. The breakwater solution will protect the renourished beach by reducing wave energy and beach loss, while shielding both shoreline and upland habitat from severe ongoing erosion. Habitat design lead Living Habitats LLC created new below and above water habitat elements, enhancing the breakwaters’ resilient custom design and promoting native flora and fauna in the Lake Michigan ecosystem.

Contracting lead Michels has construction underway, expecting placement totals of over 300,000 tons of stone, ranging from 10-pound bedding stone to 7-ton armor stone, and 430,000 cubic yards of sand.

“Illinois Beach State Park is the final remaining undeveloped lakefront in Illinois, providing unique recreational opportunities, geological significance, and critical habitat for endangered species,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “Our historic Rebuild Illinois capital plan ensures we can protect the park from shoreline erosion and dune loss, maintaining this dynamic resource for Illinois residents.”

It was the first inland freshwater project, first Great Lakes project, and first project in the Midwest to achieve WEDG verification.

The project team includes:

  • American Surveying/Engineering: surveying
  • Carmona Strategic Solutions: stakeholder outreach
  • Collins Engineering: construction quality and site civil design
  • Illinois Capital Development Board: project client and contracting agency
  • Living Habitats LLC: habitat design and landscape architecture
  • Michels Construction, Inc.: contractor, design-build team lead
  • Moffatt & Nichol: coastal design, design team lead
  • SmithGroup: bridging document design, owner’s engineer
  • Wang Engineering: geotechnical site investigation

The Waterfront Alliance, alongside reviewers in architecture, engineering, landscape architecture, and design industries determined the project exceeded the requirements to earn WEDG Verification. The evaluation included recognition for the integrated habitat elements and reuse of on-site materials like driftwood for construction and ecosystem purposes.

Some parts of the park’s coastline have receded by as much as 100 feet in one year. Aerial photos and maps show how the shoreline, roads and dune ecosystems have been drastically altered; visitors can see evidence of some of the damage in person.

“The Illinois Department of Resources, Governor Pritzker, and the Capital Development Board have a shared commitment to protecting the precious Illinois Beach shoreline and the native species that live there,” said IDNR Director Natalie Phelps Finnie. “Future generations will be able to enjoy this unique and beautiful Great Lakes shoreline because of the important work we’re doing today.”

The Illinois Capital Development Board (CDB) is overseeing the design and construction for Illinois Beach State Park in accordance with the protocol for state-appropriated construction projects.

“The Capital Development Board is proud to manage the intervention and stabilization of the shoreline system at Illinois Beach State Park,” said CDB Executive Director, Jim Underwood. “By defending against the natural shoreline transitory processes, we are protecting, preserving, and enhancing the existing infrastructure.”

SmithGroup, with consultant Edgewater Resources, serves as the bridging firm for the project, developing the concept level solution for controlling the further loss of shoreline, including providing design that influences the littoral transport throughout the park and provides guidelines for habitat protection. Contracting lead, Michels, Inc. has placed over 300,000 tons of stone and 430,000 cubic yards of sand at the site. Moffatt & Nichol is providing engineering design services during construction and Collins Engineering is providing construction observation and inspection at Illinois Beach State Park.

Construction began in early spring 2023 with the delivery of the excavator and construction materials via barge. The project is nearing breakwater completion, with habitat work beginning in the spring with substantial completion to follow.

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