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Rahm Emanuel: City to build boathouses on Chicago River

 Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined by United States Environmental ProtectiAgency (EPA) Administrator LisP. Jacksmark Chicago River as city’s next recreational

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, joined by United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa P. Jackson to mark the Chicago River as the city’s next recreational frontier and announce the administration’s commitment to constructing four new boathouses along the river as anchors of future development at Ping Tom Park. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 10, 2011 1:04PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday unveiled a $16 million plan to build four new boathouses along the Chicago River — complete with canoe, kayak and bicycle rentals — to make the river as pivotal to recreation as it has been for commerce.

The four new boathouses will be located at: River Park, Clark Park, Ping Tom Park and on Eleanor between Loomis and Fuller.

The sites were chosen to coincide with improvements already in the works to extend trails and improve riverfront access.

The cost of each boathouse is pegged at $4 million. Half of the money will come from the Chicago Park District capital budget. The other half will come from private sector donations.

“The truth is, because of our lake, we’ve only thought of it as our front yard. I now want to turn our attention to our backyard and have that same vision [for] neighborhoods that don’t have a front yard just on the lake,” Emanuel told a news conference at a soon-to-be expanded Ping Tom Park, 300 W. 19th St.

“I want that river to be for all of us what the lake has been. ... Today, we’re taking that first essential big step toward doing that. ... We’re about to make the river as important to our residents as it has been to our industry and commerce.”

The $16 million investment comes at a time when the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District is under fire to complete the Deep Tunnel project and disinfect wastewater dumped into the Chicago River.

Last year, former Mayor Richard M. Daley famously suggested that federal bureaucrats who want the Chicago River to someday be safe enough for swimming “Go swim in the Potomac.”

At the time, Daley argued that the federal government has “not been a great participant in cleaning rivers in America.” He accused the Obama administration of setting an even higher standard — at great cost — without the bucks to back it up.

On Monday, Emanuel stood at the riverfront with EPA administrator Lisa Jackson and put some not-so-subtle pressure on his former Washington colleague to contribute to the clean-up.

“The feds will be putting other resources into the river, and they’ll be coming back in a couple of weeks to do that. ... Do you need it to put boats on it? No, because people now participate. Will it improve and increase traffic? Absolutely,” the mayor said.

Jackson would only say, “We’re not done. In very short order, Mr. Mayor, I would like to come back” with more resources.

If, as expected, the boathouses precede the clean-up, canoers and kayakers just might be forced to follow the lead of high school teams such as St. Ignatius that already row in the Chicago River.

“When they fall in the river, sometimes they get a prophylactic antibiotic shot to deal with some of the contamination,” said Henry Henderson, director of Midwest programs for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“You can get some significant infections in this river. … [But] you get the antibiotic before the manifestations hit you.”

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