Illinois Sustainable Technology Center - University of Illinois

US Steel South Works

This innovative project provided topsoil to a new Chicago lake front park at the old US Steel South Works mill. The soil is dried mud from the bottom of Lake Peoria 168 miles downstream. The project is simultaneously helping restore depth to the lake while covering a slag field with topsoil. The photos below follow the work on the project, which began in April of 2004. Scroll to the bottom to see the first photos.

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December 8, 2004. Chicago. Grass is established on the site as winter approaches, despite dry weather after seeding. Freezing and thawing over the winter will loosen the soil and help develop granular soil structure.


September 26, 2004. Chicago. The seeded southern field is fairly level and awaiting rain. The vegetation on the western edge of the field was not disturbed by the bulldozers to provide protection against erosion.


September 18, 2004. Chicago. A low ground pressure bulldozer spent several days pushing over the piled soil and spreading it over the southern field. The depth varies between two and four feet. An ATV was used to spread perennial rye grass seed over the site. Weather permitting, It will germinate this fall and provide cover. The material on the northern site will not be bulldozed this year.


September 2, 2004. Chicago. Scientists from the Illinois Natural History Survey make their third visit to the site. They identified 79 species of vascular plants that were not deliberately planted on site. Many of these were wetland species which likely grew from the seed bank in the sediment. Others were upland species from seeds originally on site or in the sediment. It was impossible to verify the origin of many because the heavy equipment mixed some slag with the mud. Only one species was found which was not already known from the Chicago area. This plant Amaranthus blitum had not previously been recorded in Illinois. Plants were six or more feet high on some of the older piles. An endloader cut into one of the piles to expose its interior.

On the northern site the sunflower plot was in full bloom. Grass, alfalfa and volunteer cottonwood seedlings dominated the rest of the site. The alfalfa and seedlings were showing stress, most likely because of the dry weather.


August 13, 2004. Chicago. The plot of annual rye grass planted in April is setting seed. A block of soil pulled from the pile has grass roots extending all the way down the desiccation cracks. Roots completely penetrate the first few inches which have developed granular soil structure. The bulldozed piles of soil continue to weather and dry, while a thin layer of later placed material has dried on the slag. On the northern portion of the site, the sunflower patch is over a foot high. On the rest of the field planted grass and alfalfa continues to grow along with thousands of cottonwood seedlings that blew onto the site. The Loop is visible in the background.


July 30, 2004. Chicago. Plants continue to spread on the new topsoil on the south side of the site. In addition to planted grasses and alfalfa, a wide variety of seeds that were in the mud or blew in from the area are well established. The last windrows of soil are drying well. Piled material is beginning to show granular soil structure after several cycles of wetting and drying. On the North side the sunflower plot is well established and planted grass and volunteer cottonwood trees are growing in the desiccation cracks.


July 2, 2004. Chicago. The bulldozer runs through freshly placed mud forming it into windrows. On the south side Piled soil is probed to determine the consistency and drying. Plants are well established on piled soil that has been in place six to eight weeks. On the north side the soil is left to dry without being piled. A classic pattern of desiccation cracks forms over the field as the mud dries. Hand sown alfalfa is becoming established in the cracks. Perennial rye grass and a small plot of sunflower seeds were also sown in other spots.


June 24, 2004. Chicago. Soil in this barge is crusted. The Chicago downtown skyline is visible from the slip. The grass on the original demonstration pile is over a foot high and is now growing faster than the geese can eat it. The unloading operation is moved back to the south side of the slip. Previously placed material is bulldozed into piles to make room for more. Hydro seeded grass, alfalfa and volunteer vegetation is growing well on the piled soil at the end of the new 87th street. The material on the north side is drying well and has deep desiccation cracks. It will be seeded but not bulldozed.


June 10, 2004. E. Peoria. The work barge approaches the mouth of Spinder Marina aided by added depth due to floodwater. A smaller Cable Arm bucket is tried for the last few weeks. The dredging is completed on June 23.


June 4, 2004. Chicago. Grass planted April 22 is well established. Grass that Hydro seeded on May 22 is germinating. Snowshoes allow alfalfa to be planted on soft sediment on the north side of the slip. Drying continues on the south side, which is completely covered. Most of the reclaimed topsoil will be bulldozed into piles so that more can be placed.


May 25, 2004. Chicago. Heavy rains hit the site for several days recently. Rainwater is evident in a barge and will be pumped onto a field prior to unloading. The crane was moved to the north side of the slip on the 21st and reclaimed topsoil will be stockpiled a the northern end of the site. Mist rises moisture leaves the drying soil on the slag field. A layer of mussel shells from a die off in the 1950s occasionally intact despite being excavated from Peoria Lake and dumped on the slag field. Researcher gets mired in the fresh mud. On the south side grass is growing well on the original pile seeded on April 19. Despite the rain few puddles are visible on the southern site where material was placed the week before.


May 20, 2004. E. Peroia. The work barge is 1250 feet from the Spindler Marina entrance. The combined sediment and water depth is now too shallow for filling a standard barge. Further progress toward the marina will have to wait. A National Public Radio reporter visited the work barge.


Chicago Press conference. May 17, 2004. Lt. Governor Quinn and several Chicago officials hosted a press conference to at the site. Attendees saw the unloading and placement operation as well as reclaimed topsoil in all stages of drying. Dignitaries included Alderman John Pope (10th) and Chicago Park District Superintendent Tim Mitchel.


May 17, 2004. Chicago. Most of the initial site is covered with drying soil, and the operation will move to the other side of the slip to begin placement on the north property. Clods pushed up by the bulldozer three weeks earlier are completely dry and beginning to form granular soil particles. This process is aided by wetting and drying after rains. A garter snake was seen exploring the cracks in the drying soil.


May 11, 2004. East Peoria. Barge loading efficiency continues to improve. The heavier Cable Arm bucket drains well and minimizing the amount of free water in the barges.


May 5, 2004. Chicago. Reclaimed soil is pushed up on the west side of the park site after drying for a week. Much of the site is covered with drying material. Annual grass is growing on the hand seeded test plots on poured piles and bulldozed piles. The grass is mostly rooted in the cracks. Geese are eating the tops of the grass blades.


Annual rye grass was hand seeded on a pile of freshly poured wet soil at noon on April 19, 2004. Seed was also spread on the pile of soil pushed up by the bulldozer. By April 22, 2004 rain had pockmarked the pile and washed seed into the desiccation cracks. Three more adjacent piles were poured and seeded on the 22nd. Grass seed germinated on the first pile on April 29th, 2004. By May 3, the grass sown on the wet soil pile poured on April 19th was well established. This test plot was not disturbed by trucks or the bulldozer.


Samples of freshly poured material are collected on the field for determination of physical properties.


Returning the soil to the land.


April 23, 2004. East Peoria. Barge loading speeds up as a larger Manitowok 4000 crane is brought on line. A Cable Arm low profile, high dewatering bucket is added to the job. This 6 cubic yard bucket weighs 13,000 pounds and is screened to hold sediment while draining water. Three buckets used earlier were too light to efficiently penetrate stiffer sediment below the six foot level.


April 22, 2004. Chicago. More barges are at the site. Material in the barges shows desiccation cracks indicative of drying in transit. The initial site south of the slip is nearly covered with the first layer of drying soil.


April 19, 2004. Material that has dried for six days supports weight, although the bottom layer is still wet. Some of the top layer is bulldozed into a pile, leaving the lower wet layer exposed to the air. Trucks ran through the material to make furrows to aid the drying process. It rained twice since the first barge was emptied.


April 14, 2004. First barge load of reclaimed topsoil drying after one day on the field. Four more loaded barges await unloading at the site after being hauled 163 miles upriver by Illinois Marine Towing. Holly Marine Fleeting delivered the barges to the slip.


Beemsterboer Slag and Ballast is unloading and placing the wet reclaimed topsoil. A Manitowok 4100, 100-ton crane with elevated cab unloads the soil into Volvo BMA35 mining trucks. A Hawco 10 cubic yard bucket fills the trucks (the bucket is not fully filled to avoid spilling material). A Caterpillar bulldozer arranges the wet soil after placement. The first barge was unloaded in Chicago on April 13.


Contractors ARTCO Fleeting (an ADM subsidiary) and Midwest Foundation collect soil front the bottom of Lower Peoria Lake at East Peoria. They use a crane to excavate soil from the river and place it in barges. The barges are 35x195 feet in size and hold 1500 tons of material. Each barge holds the equivalent of 75 semi-trailers.


The Illinois Department of Natural Resources' scientific surveys and the University of Illinois' Dept. of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences have spent years studying the river and ways to restore it. They are providing technical assistance on such matters as hydrology, sediment deposition, characterization and soil properties.


April 6, 2004. Illinois Lt. Governor Pat Quinn and U. S. Congressman Ray LaHood held a joint press conference at Spindler Marina in East Peoria, Illinois. Numerous other state and local officials attended the Mud To Parks send off. Quinn chairs the Illinois River Coordinating Council that is spearheading a state-federal effort to restore the river. LaHood is a long time champion of funding for river restoration. The project will dredge soil from Peoria Lake and barge it to Chicago for use as topsoil at a new park being developed at the old US Steel South Works site on Lake Michigan.


The 17 acre South Works site as it looked prior to placement of reclaimed topsoil.


Planning redevelopment of the South Works site has been a multi-year process involvmany organizations. People from many agencies inspected the site to develop the placement plan for reclaimed topsoil on the parks. They also visited the Paxton 1 landfill near Lake Calumet where 900 tons of wet soil from Peoria Lake was placed in September of 2002 as a demonstration.

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