The Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF) was formed in 1989 by Marian Byrnes as a coalition of 30 grassroots organizations working together to oppose a garbage incinerator proposed for the former Wisconsin Steel site at 106th Street and Torrence Avenue.

The organization continues to be vitally important in the perpetual struggles necessary to strike a balance between economic life, human welfare, and the environment—struggles that define the Calumet Region.

Time Line

  • 1989 SETF is founded by Marian Byrnes
  • 1992 Successfully fought off conversion of Lake Calumet into airport
  • 1993 National Park Service Feasibility Study
    • determines most of the natural resources had been drastically changed and due to existing contamination would not be added to the national park system.
  • 1994 Opposed co-disposal landfill at O’Brien Lock
  • 1994 Closed CWM incinerator @ 117th & Stony
  • 1998 Participated in no napalm in our cement kilns
  • 2001 Calumet Initiative
    • Restore and enhance open space
    • Revitalize economic opportunities
  • 2002 Calumet Area Land Use Plan
  • 2002 Calumet Ecological Management Strategy Phase 1 Sites
  • 2003 Marian R. Byrnes Natural Area Dedicated
  • 2004 Calumet Design Guidelines
  • 2005 Landfill moratorium extended to 2025
  • 2005 Calumet Open Space Reserve Plan
  • 2005 SETF adopts it’s Calumet Vision
  • 2012 Bald Eagle nest found by Carolyn Marsh scraps CPD project for a 33 acre open air firing range
  • 2012 Millennium Reserve Plan inacted
    • Restore and enhance open space
    • Revitalize economic opportunities
  • 2014 Closed Stateline Coal Power Plant
  • 2015 Beemsterboer discontinues illegal storage of Petcoke, KOCH discontinues storage of Petcoke at their South facility

SETF Founder: Marian Byrnes


Marian Byrnes is a former Chicago Public Schools teacher who began educating herself as an environmental activist when a bus depot was proposed for the Van Vlissingen Prairie that abutted her home. For more than 30 years, she has been the leading activist in protecting the natural environments of the Calumet Region, spearheading SETF’s fights over landfills and the proposed Lake Calumet airport, which would have destroyed Hegewisch. And end of an era came on May 20th 2010 when, at the age of 84 Marian Byrnes passed away.


Born in Indiana as Marian Richardson, she grew up on a farm as an only child. She attended a one-room school, and in 1938, won the Scripps National Spelling Bee with the word sanitarium. In 1946, she married Bruce Byrnes Jr., a toy salesman who died in 1966.

While at Indiana University in the early 1940s, she organized one of the first student chapters of the NAACP. With a master’s degree from the University of Chicago, Mrs. Byrnes began her career as a Chicago Public Schools teacher.

Mrs. Byrnes took up a number of causes in her life — including labor, civil rights, anti-war and animal welfare. Her crusade to protect the prairies and to ensure the shores of Lake Calumet stayed open made her a community icon.

In 1979, Mrs. Byrnes organized the Committee to Protect the Prairie to block plans by the CTA to build a bus garage over half of the Van Vlissingen Prairie, which was behind her Jeffery Manor home. The open space was later renamed the Marian R. Byrnes Natural Area.

When the city proposed to pave over what some deemed an industrial wasteland on the Southeast Side to put up an airport, Mrs. Byrnes was a vocal opponent.

She was instrumental in efforts to shut down a Chemical Waste Management hazardous waste incinerator.

She founded Citizens United to Reclaim the Environment, which led the way for her to head the Southeast Environmental Task Force.

Comments are closed.