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Group Fails to Block Obama Presidential Center Groundbreaking

Aug. 13, 2021, 2:32 PM

Construction on the planned Obama Presidential Center in Chicago can proceed after an Illinois federal court ruled a group opposing the project failed to show their federal claims are likely to succeed.

Protect Our Parks and several individuals argue the federal government failed to study the impacts of construction on the environment, historical resources, and wildlife. If the Federal Highway Administration and National Parks Service properly studied those impacts, they would have selected another site instead of Jackson Park, according to the complaint.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied their motion to stop the project Aug. 5, and the group sought to stay the court’s order and block the project pending their appeal. However, they simply rehashed the same arguments that were already rejected, the court said Thursday.

The groups’ challenge to the environmental review of the project amounts to “nothing more than disagreements” about the decisions the agencies made, the court said.

The agencies complied with federal environmental law by studying the various impacts of tree removals to air quality and migratory birds, according to the ruling. The agencies also considered the unique characteristics of Jackson Park, contrary to the groups’ claims, the court said.

The agencies had no authority to choose an alternative site to Jackson Park, or to force the city to build the center in another park, according to the ruling. The court rejected the groups’ challenge to water permits issued for the project for the same reason, saying that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “simply had no control over the initial decision to place the OPC in Jackson Park.”

Construction on the project is scheduled to begin Aug. 16.

Judge John Robert Blakey issued the opinion.

Rachlis Duff & Peel LLC and Richard Epstein of Norwalk, Conn., represent the plaintiffs.

The Justice Department represents the federal government. The Chicago Department of Law represents the city, joined by Bracewell LLP. Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella PC represents the Chicago Park District.

Sidley Austin LLP represents the Obama Foundation.

The case is Protect Our Parks Inc. v. Buttigieg, N.D. Ill., No. 21-cv-2006, 8/12/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Maya Earls in Washington at mearls@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com