Proponents of Worth’s Lucas-Berg preservation site are worried about future

  • Written by By Sharon L. Filkins

Some Worth residents and community leaders who have worked tirelessly to turn the Lucas-Berg site into a nature preserve are concerned that the land on the western end of the village could become a landfill once again.

This despite the fact Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) said last fall that the final step had been taken to protect the Lucas-Berg Preserve from becoming a dumping site.

The Lucas-Berg Preserve site is bordered by 111th Street on the north, Southwest Highway on the west, Oketo Avenue on the east and Palos Hills on the south.

Concerns began when the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, which owned the Lucas-Berg site, leased it to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The USACE intended to use the site as a place to deposit material dredged from the bottom of the Cal-Sag Canal when work was begun to widen the canal.

The USACE even went as far as reconfiguring the property in preparation for their future work, but the work on the canal never materialized. The property was neglected for 30 years, through the ‘80s, ‘90s and into the 2000s.

Lipinski had inserted language into the Water Resources Reform and Development Act in 2014, preventing the Army Corps from dumping the materials from the Cal-Sag into the 78-acre property. The result of that action meant that the site has officially been transferred from the Army Corps back to the MWRD.

Ed Guzdziol was elected mayor of the village in 2001. Guzdziol, who served as mayor until 2009, believed the 78-acre property had potential primarily for commercial development. He also participated in the efforts of the COTE, working with members who included community activist Adele Benck.

COTE had worked during the 30 previous years to protect the fragile ecosystem of flora and fauna developed on the Lucas-Berg site. In 1985, Gene and Larie Jo Meyers had been instrumental in overseeing the planting of seedlings and trees on the site, getting scouting organizations involved and enlisting the help of students from Moraine Valley Community College in annual clean-ups.

In 2005, Guzdziol reached out to the USACE because he was interested in the economic development potential of the property. In response, he received a lengthy report on the Corps plans to deposit dredging material on the property.

This began the David and Goliath battle, pitting Worth against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prevent any deposit of dredging material on the property, which had been transformed by COTE into a nature reserve.

Mike McElroy joined forces with COTE due to his experience with waterways and wetlands. He is the director of the Marine Operations along the Chicago River.

“We basically fell in love with the beauty and possibility of the property and envisioned it becoming a wonderful nature reserve where people could hike the trails, kayak on the water and fish,” said McElroy.

“To that end we met with Rep. Lipinski and his chief of staff, repeatedly banging on the doors of the government to prevent the Army Corps of Engineers from dumping contaminated dredge material on this now beautiful spot,” added McElroy. “Our group immersed ourselves in the techniques of water analysis, hydrology, the impact of contaminants on our water supplies, and we called in experts to testify about the danger involved for the community. The issue was not just to develop a commercial strip of land on 111th to increase tax revenue for the village. It was to protect our children from the dangers of the potential contaminants.”

Benck also credits Lipinski and his office for his support in protecting the property.

“He is big part of this success. He has been good to us and I don’t think this could have happened without him,” she said.

McElroy said that this is a “false victory” and that “we won the battle but may have lost the war.” McElroy is concerned because there is a huge debate in Worth as to what the land should be used for.

“Who is to say what the MWRD will do? Their stand at this time is that the site will either be used for corporate purposes, or be sold to the highest bidder,” said McElroy.

“If the property is sold to the highest bidder, which could effectively prevent the village from purchasing it, how do we know they won’t sell it to another land fill developer? And, if that were to happen, would the village be willing to start all over again to prevent that from happening? We are in limbo now, and it could be years before MWRD does anything,” added McElroy.

Benck said she thinks it will remain much the same and she does not believe that the MWRD will ever give up the property. “Anything could happen over a span of 10 or 15 years. Corporations change, staff members change, etc. No one knows the future,” she said.

Guzdziol still believes it should be used for commercial development to increase tax revenue and lower taxes for the residents. “We have plenty of recreational space now in the village, with our parks, bike trails and the boat launch. We need economic development.”

Taking the middle road on the debate was Gene Meyers, who said he thinks there could be a nice balance on the site, with a mixed use of commercial development and a nature site.

“But, whatever happens will take a lot of time and planning and, of course, capital,” said Meyers. “I do believe this is a gem for our area and we need to be vigilant about a long term plan that would integrate the natural beauty and an appropriate development,”

For further information on the Lucas-Berg site, visit the website at

Worth Fire Department volunteers reminisce as they prepare for 90th reunion

  • Written by By Kelly White

The Worth Fire Department opened its doors as a volunteer department in 1925.

To relive the volunteering days and mingle with former volunteers, the Worth Fire Department will be hosting its first-ever reunion from 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday, May 22 at Chieftain Irish Pub, 6906 W. 111th St., in Worth. A tour of the North Palos Fire House, formally the Worth Fire House, is planned for 1 p.m. to mark the 90th anniversary of the original fire department in Worth. This year would have marked the 91st year of the volunteer fire department.

The event is open to all former Worth Fire Department volunteers, current members of the North Palos Fire Protection District and to the general public. Residents and former volunteers are asked to bring an appetizer to share along with photos and memories.

Defined as a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task, these volunteers helped to build up the original Worth community, and even the fire department itself, up until 1986. Volunteer was not a term coined lightly, as the men and woman of the Worth Fire Department took their jobs very seriously.

“Worth was known for having one of the best fire departments in the area during the 1970s and 1980s, crews worked non-stop, day and night shifts and weekend crews,” said Ed Palenik, a former Worth firefighter. “Worth is not a big city. It is a small town community with a great neighborhood, and people living here have always, and still want, what is best for their town.”

Palenik volunteered for the department from 1978 to 1981, a decision that was strongly influenced by his brother, Ken Palenik, who began his volunteer days at the Worth Fire Department in 1977 and is now the battalion chief at the Des Plaines Fire Department.

“Ken is my hero,” Palenik said. “He has always been a down to earth guy and you need that in a fire department – to stay humble. He always has and since then he has taken his career very far.”

The decision to volunteer at the department also led to Palenik meeting his now wife, Maggie Palenik, who volunteered at the department from 197 to 1980.

Maggie was the third female volunteer who stepped foot into the department but says that did not intimidate her.

“It was a little hard being a female among all other male volunteers,” Maggie said. “There were two other women who volunteered prior to me coming on to the department. However, they were gone before I started. Some men disapproved of a woman on staff at first but I never let that discourage me. I came from a family of first responders and I knew this was my calling. I truly believe I opened the door for other females to get in.”

While working at the department, Maggie broke her cardinal rule to never date anyone she worked with when she was invited to a wedding for another volunteer in the department in 1978. Not having a date, she decided to ask her now husband, Ed, to join her for the evening. The two were married in 1980. They have six children, still reside in Worth and will be celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary on June 7.

Ed continued his passion for firefighting after his volunteer days, taking a full-time position with the North Palos Fire Department in 1981, then working with the Bedford Park Fire Department in 1987 before he went on to the Naperville Fire Department, where he retired. He still works part-time as the EMS coordinator for the Evergreen Park Fire Department, a position he began in 1987 while still at the Bedford Park Fire Department.

The Paleniks are far from the only ones who are more than grateful for their days as volunteers on the Worth Fire Department.

“The Worth Fire Department will always hold a soft spot in my heart,” said Jack Lawton, a volunteer from 1975 to 2001.

Lawton decided to become a volunteer to help his community.

“I started on as a volunteer at the age of 18,” he said. “The options then were to get involved in a trade or get involved in the volunteer firefighting experience. A lot of the volunteers were young and living in town.”

The Worth Fire Department ceased operations at midnight on New Year’s Eve 2008, turning village fire protection over to the North Palos Fire Protection District.

The North Palos Fire Protection District absorbed the Worth Fire Department station, equipment and personnel. All three North Palos fire stations, located at 10629 S. Roberts Road in Palos Hills, 8913 W. 95th St. in Palos Hills and 7116 W. 111th St., in Worth, now serve and protects Worth, as well as Palos Hills and the district in its entirety.

Upon the absorption, some Worth Fire Department volunteers were taken on as full-time firefighters.

“When you are called in to serve, you play a very important role in the community,” said Colleen McElroy, Economic Development Liaison and trustee for the Village of Worth. “Even though they were only volunteers back then instead of paid employees, nothing has changed. It is all about commitment to your community.”

Oak Lawn to adopt formal policy to address police, fire pension funds

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

At the urging of financial advisers, Oak Lawn officials are considering adopting a formal funding policy for the village’s police and fire pension funds.

Finance director Brian Hanigan and his management team laid out the details of the financial situation of the pension funds at the village board meeting on Tuesday. Hanigan said he would be seeking approval for his formal funding policy request at the next meeting, on May 10.

He and actuary Todd Schroeder credited the board with increasing funding for the pensions from $1.4 million in 2011, to the $6 million budgeted for 2016. This represents a 350 percent increase for the police pension and 461 percent for the fire department.

However, Hanigan said that as of Dec. 31, 2015, the pensions were still only funded at 54 percent level for police and 56 percent for fire. This represents $275 being paid by each household.

But he said complying with the anticipated state law that both pensions be funded at a 90 percent level by 2040 would require an additional $200 per household per year over the next 25 years.

Hanigan said the pension costs could take 22 or 23 percent of the general fund. But the finance director suggested that much of that additional cost could come from the tax levy, without any additional increases, if the village board is conservative.

“We’re trying to keep the tax levy constant during this period,” said Schroeder. “Adopting a standard payment schedule will pay down the village debt overall, but not doing so could cost $126 million to our balance sheet.”

“Cash flow out is going to be constant. So the cash flow in is an important consideration,” said Schroeder.

Schroeder said failing to adopt a formal funding policy would also endanger the village’s current A+ bond rating.

“There needs to be a committed effort to pay down the debt,” said Hanigan.

Most if not all of the trustees seemed to be on board with the proposal, which will be discussed further on May 10.

“If we adopt this policy, it will give us a chance to save our (bond) rating,” said Trustee Bud Stalker (5th). “I liken this to when you buy a house, you agree to pay the mortgage. Brian is asking us to do is commit to paying the mortgage, and I think it is a great plan.”

“We have known that this was coming down the road for some time,” said Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd). “This is the goal we need to accomplish and is the most responsible way for us to do this. I think this is a very good and thorough plan. We made a commitment to the police and fire department members and it is right that they have their pensions,” he added.



Final preparations are being set for Southwest Half Marathon

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

“We’re coming down the home stretch,” said Jeff Prestinario, co-director of the 9th annual Southwest Half Marathon and 10K, encouraging his team of organizers at one of their last meetings before the races are held on Sunday, May 1.

After months of preparations, going back to last fall, the annual race on Route 83 that Prestinario founded nine years ago with Mel Diab is about to begin.

“It’s finally here. We couldn’t have done any of this without you,” Diab told the organizers, noting that the event falls on his father’s 93rd birthday this year.

The organizing committee is in charge of making sure everything runs smoothly at the Half Marathon and 10K, as well as Palos Area Chamber of Commerce’s Health and Business Expo being held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Shepard High School, 13049 S. Ridgeland Ave., Palos Heights.

As usual, runners will visit the Expo to pick up their race numbers, T-shirts and goody-bags put together by volunteers.

“I think things will work out well,” said Prestinario, as he pointed out that registration has picked up after a slow start early in the year. As of last Friday, there were 1,083 registered, including 788 for the half marathon and about 300 for the 10K.

The events on Sunday will begin with a non-denominational service led by Pastor Ryan Hall of Harvest Bible Chapel. Local mayors, including Jerry Bennett of Palos Hills, John Mahoney of Palos Park, and Bob Straz of Palos Heights will also address the crowd before the races get started.

Straz is also local market president of CNB Bank, one of the principal sponsors of the event this year, along with Palos Community Hospital.

Wheelchair racers competing in the half marathon will get rolling at 7:25 a.m. at the starting point at 7600 W. Route 83, with the runners starting at 7:30 a.m. Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd), is the grand marshal, will fire the shot to get them started, followed by the 10K runners at 7:35 a.m.

The route takes participants mainly through forest preserves, with the turnaround point near Archer Avenue.

A half-mile walk, run and roll race for the developmentally disabled clients of South West Special Recreation Association will then start at 7:45.

“We’re always very grateful that since its inception, you have always included everyone in your community in this great event,” said Lori Chesna of SWSRA.

In addition to having two new principal sponsors this year, Palos Community Hospital and CNB Bank & Trust, this is also the first year the Expo is being held in the Shepard High School gymnasium, which affords more space for vendors than was available at the previous venue, Moraine Valley Community Church.

Organizers said more than 40 local businesses and agencies have registered and will have tables at the Expo, up from 36 last year, making it the biggest expo ever.

The additional space will allow the health-oriented vendors to be on one side, with the businesses being on the other.

Palos Hospital will be offering blood-pressure screenings at its booth, and physical therapists from the hospital are going to be performing fitness stretching exercises with the runners before the races on Sunday.

Race participants will also be stopping by the Expo to pick up their numbers, shirts, and goody bags packed by volunteers.

“Before you know it will be all over,” said Prestinario, pointing out that the race officially ends at 10:30 a.m., with the awards ceremony scheduled for 11. Route 83 will reopen at 12:30 p.m.

Palos Hills approves funds for MFT Street Project repairs

  • Written by By Michael Gilbert

More than 30 streets in Palos Hills are to receive crack sealing work this summer and another five are due for paving and patching work as the city last week approved the roads in the 2016 Motor Fuel Tax Street Project.

City officials voted unanimously April 21 to appropriate $475,000 in MFT funds for this year’s project, which was expected to go out for bid this week and could begin in around two months, according to Public Works Commissioner Dave Weakley.

The city is estimating the work will cost around $468,880, but Ald. Mark Brachman (2nd Ward) said after talking with Weakley they were optimistic the bids will come in under the estimated cost.

A few of the roads slated for crack sealing, which is a preservation technique designed to prevent water from penetrating into the roadbed, are 97th Street from Roberts Road to 82nd Avenue, Wood Lane from 82nd Court to 100th Place, Charles Avenue from 103rd Street to 82nd Avenue and 104th Street from 81st Avenue to Roberts Road.

Weakley said public works rates all of the city’s roads on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being those in the best shape to 5 being those in the most need of repair.

“We classify the roads and then see how best we can make our money go,” he said of determining which roads are included in the annual project.

A majority of the money in this year’s MFT Street Project has been earmarked for crack sealing, Weakley said, as only about $100,000 of the $475,000 is expected to be spent on paving and patching work.

“[The roads designated for paving and patching] are little short segments of road that add up to about $100,000, but they are sorely in need of being repaired,” he said.

The roads slated for paving and patching work are 84th Avenue from 102nd Place to the intersection; 84th Avenue from the curb replacement west side to just south of 99th Place; 86th Avenue from 107th Street to Sunvalley Drive; 99th Place from 84th Avenue to the dead end and 96th Street from 87th Avenue to the dead end.

Palos Hills currently receives 19 cents from every gallon of gasoline purchased in the city. That money then goes in to the city’s motor fuel tax fund for various road projects. The cost of fuel at a given time has no bearing on the 19-cent figure, Weakley said.

“When people are buying lots of gas we reap the benefits,” he said.

Weakley said the influx of electronic and hybrid cars could “certainly” pose a problem for the MFT fund in the future, but as of now has not caused any issues or prevented the city from undertaking road improvement projects.

The crack sealing and paving work is not expected to create much of a nuisance for motorists, Weakley said.

“The crack sealing will take maybe a week to a week and a half at the most and the paving project will take around a week,” he said. “There will be very little inconvenience for drivers. We work with the traffic so there may be momentary closures but only for minutes.”

In other news, Ald. Joe Marrotta (4th Ward) reminded the council and a handful of residents in attendance that the fishing ban at Pleasure Lake remains in effect this year.

The 8.1-acre lake located at 10801 S. Roberts Road is only six feet at its deepest point and during the winter of 2013-14 froze solid, killing all of the fish. In October of 2014, the council approved an immediate and indefinite fishing ban in order to restock the lake.

Marrotta said there are “rumors going around” of people fishing at the lake but the police have been unable to catch the culprits.

“Every time our police get back (to the lake the fishermen) are not there,” Marrotta said. “There is evidence that people are fishing and they are just going to ruin it for everybody.”

Around 20 months ago the city spent $1,300 from its park development fun to purchase 1,500 blue gills, 325 bass and 300 catfish. Marrotta said those fish are doing well but they need time to grow and reproduce.

“We want to restock the lake and we’re in the process of doing that now but we’re just fishing it out before we get a chance to restock it.”

Those caught fishing at the lake can be fined, Marrotta said.