We are glad to see that the City Council decided on July 8 to hold the proposed Memorandum of Understanding with Northwestern University about the use and operations of what was cagily termed “the beach located at end [sic] of Lincoln Street.”
As written for Council’s consideration on July 8, the MOU, as we opined in a piece posted just before the Council meeting, gave too much to Northwestern and reserved little, if anything, for the people of Evanston. So onerous was the MOU to Evanstonians, we found it difficult to believe that anyone representing the City would have crafted it.
Evanston still would have borne the responsibility to monitor the water quality on a daily basis and comb and smooth the beach weekly; in return, Northwestern would have had to hire a life guard and someone to monitor admissions.
A host of other benefits would have accrued to the University without any reciprocal benefit. For example, Northwestern would have been able to keep the beach open only during “beach hours” through the “beach season” – roughly Memorial Day to Labor Day – with additional closures dictated by the University. The University would also have been able to increase the admission price and to withdraw its parking privileges – if they can reasonably be called that – with notice, of course, but essentially at its own whim.
Our July 8 editorial enumerated these flaws and also raised the question of ownership of the beach. We appreciate the aldermen’s unwillingness to deal with the MOU as it was handed to them and their call for an MOU that is both shorter in duration and in provisions.
The question of ownership remains paramount.
The sand that became the beach accumulated because Northwestern filled in 80 or so acres of Lake Michigan, which it had acquired from the State of Illinois.
The beach is just north of the land Northwestern acquired from the State in the 1960s. The University’s history of the lakefill states, “After an extensive lobbying effort by the University, the State House and Senate voted in favor of a bill allowing the sale of the underwater property for $100 an acre. Governor Otto J. Kerner (Law, 1934) signed the bill on May 26, 1961.”
For too long, common parlance and usage have deemed it the “Northwestern beach,” but that is far from accurate. Under the Public Trust doctrine, the beach is a public, not a private one.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has asserted ownership of the beach on behalf of the people of Illinois. While there is no formal statement yet, an IDNR spokesperson told the RoundTable on July 10 that City and IDNR officials are working on an intergovernmental agreement that would allow Evanston to use the beach.
The terms of this agreement will likely reframe the MOU, if not obviate the need for it.
Should the City decide to pursue an MOU, it must state up front that the beach, created by accretions of sand from Northwestern’s construction, is a public beach.
Alderman Eleanor Revelle suggested some items she would like to see in a new MOU: – a term that ends in April of next year, year-round accessibility during the same hours
as all the other Evanston beaches, admission fees that are the same as the City’s and notification by Northwestern when it plans to close the beach.
We would add that Northwestern should provide free parking. Since this is a public beach, we think Northwestern should make parking accommodations for beach-users in the “beach season.” Perhaps 25 spaces in a nearby lot could be used for beach-goers on a given day. Each of these spaces could have a set time limit – say, three to four hours – thus opening up the parking. Of course, parking should be free during those times.
Ald. Revelle also mentioned that there might be one or more endangered species in the dunes or dune grasses at Lincoln Street Beach. We urge the City, IDNR and Northwestern to ascertain whether this is in fact the case and, if so, to find a way to protect or shelter the species.
Finally, we would like to have the MOU call it Lincoln Street Beach.