Chicago defends location of Obama library in federal court

CHICAGO (AP) — The city of Chicago made its first full-throated response this week to a lawsuit seeking to stop construction of the Obama Presidential Center, saying the buildings would sit on land that wasn't subject to restrictive public-trust laws.

City attorneys made those and other legal arguments in a federal court motion to dismiss a May lawsuit filed by an environmental group opposed to the project in Chicago's historic Jackson Park, chosen as the site for the $500 million presidential museum and library by former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama.

The filing asking Judge John Robert Blakey to toss the suit highlights City Council and state legislative approval for the complex it said will foster economic development on the city's South Side, upgrade the parkland and tell "the story of our Nation's first African-American President." It's slated to open in 2021.

Related: Obama makes first post-presidency visit to Kenya to launch youth center

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Obama makes first post-presidency visit to Kenya to launch youth center
Former US President, Barak Obama (3L) poses for a picrure with his step-grandmother Sarah (C) and half-sister, Auma (2R) and some of the local youth on July 16, 2018 during the opening of the Sauti Kuu Resource Centre, founded by his half-sister, Auma Obama at Kogelo in Siaya county, western Kenya. - Obama is in the east african nation for the first time since he left the US presidency and met with President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga in Nairobi. (Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP) (Photo credit should read TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)
Former US President, Barak Obama (R) interacts with some of the local young beneficiaries July 16, 2018 during the opening of the Sauti Kuu Resource Centre, founded by his half-sister, Auma Obama at Kogelo in Siaya county, western Kenya. - Obama is in the east African nation for the first time since he left the US presidency and met with President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga in Nairobi. (Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP) (Photo credit should read TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents of Nyang'oma village in Kogelo wave US flags as they gather by the side of the road to wait for former US President, Barack Obama to arrive on July 16, 2018 for the opening of the Sauti Kuu Resource Centre, founded by his half-sister, Auma Obama at Kogelo in Siaya county, western Kenya. - Obama is in the East African nation for the first time since he left the US presidency and met with President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga in Nairobi. (Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP) (Photo credit should read TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents of Nyang'oma village in Kogelo wave US flags as they gather by the side of the road to wait for former US President, Barack Obama to arrive on July 16, 2018 for the opening of the Sauti Kuu Resource Centre, founded by his half-sister, Auma Obama at Kogelo in Siaya county, western Kenya. - Obama is in the East African nation for the first time since he left the US presidency and met with President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga in Nairobi. (Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP) (Photo credit should read TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)
Former US President, Barack Obama (C) with his step-grandmother Sarah (2R) and half-sister, Auma (L) arrive to unveil a plaque on July 16, 2018 during the opening of the Sauti Kuu Resource Centre, founded by his half-sister, Auma Obama at Kogelo in Siaya county, western Kenya. - Obama is in the east african nation for the first time since he left the US presidency and met with President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga in Nairobi. (Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP) (Photo credit should read TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)
Former US President, Barack Obama (C) with his step-grandmother Sarah (2R) and half-sister, Auma (L) arrive to unveil a plaque on July 16, 2018 during the opening of the Sauti Kuu Resource Centre, founded by his half-sister, Auma Obama at Kogelo in Siaya county, western Kenya. - Obama is in the east african nation for the first time since he left the US presidency and met with President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga in Nairobi. (Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP) (Photo credit should read TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Barack Obama addresses delegates at the basketball court during the launch of Sauti Kuu resource centre near his ancestral home in Nyangoma Kogelo village in Siaya county, western Kenya July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
Former U.S. President Barack Obama seats with delegates at the basketball court during the launch of Sauti Kuu resource centre near his ancestral home in Nyangoma Kogelo village in Siaya county, western Kenya July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
Former U.S. President Barack Obama reacts as he addresses players at the basketball court during the launch of Sauti Kuu resource centre near his ancestral home in Nyangoma Kogelo village in Siaya county, western Kenya July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
Former U.S. President Barack Obama addresses players at the basketball court during the launch of Sauti Kuu resource centre near his ancestral home in Nyangoma Kogelo village in Siaya county, western Kenya July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
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Protect Our Parks contends in its complaint that the land was once under Lake Michigan water, putting it in the public trust under court precedent and extending additional protections. The city's filing argues that's historically inaccurate and that while nearby areas were submerged, the Obama Presidential Center site was not.

The center has widespread backing in Chicago, where Obama began his political career. But lakefront projects over the decades have always prompted fierce resistance in some quarters. A similar suit helped scuttle "Star Wars" creator George Lucas' plans for a Chicago museum in 2016.

Disputes derive, in part, from an 1892 Supreme Court ruling in Illinois Central Railroad v. Illinois that helped establish the public trust doctrine. It held that submerged — or in some contexts formerly submerged land — is in the public trust, so can't be transferred to private owners — unless granting the land's use expands public benefits.

The city also noted that the physical center won't be a private entity upon completion. While the private Obama Foundation will pay costs of construction and maintenance, ownership of the buildings will be given to the city at no cost.

Even if the judge concludes the land falls under the public trust doctrine, the filing argues, the complex qualifies for the exceptions because it will enhance the public value of the area, including by providing new educational and recreational opportunities.

Related: Obama hits campaign trail for first time since leaving White House

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Obama hits campaign trail for first time since leaving White House
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Obama hits campaign trail for first time since leaving White House
NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 19: Former U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands after speaking at a rally in support of Democratic candidate Phil Murphy, who is running against Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno for the governor of New Jersey, on October 19, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey. In Obama's first return to the campaign trail, the former president is stumping for Democratic gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia as they prepare for next month's elections. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Barack Obama campaigns in support of Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam (R), Democratic candidate for governor, at a rally with supporters in Richmond, Virginia, U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Former president Barack Obama rallies with New Jersey Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jim Murphy in Newark, New Jersey, U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Makela
Former US President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally for Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Ralph Northam (unseen) in Richmond, Virginia October 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Former president Barack Obama acknowledges the crowd after rallying with New Jersey Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jim Murphy in Newark, New Jersey, U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Makela
Former president Barack Obama speaks during a rally for New Jersey Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jim Murphy in Newark, New Jersey, U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Makela
Former U.S. President Barack Obama campaigns in support of Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam (R), Democratic candidate for governor, at a rally with supporters in Richmond, Virginia, U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
A young boy awaits the arrival of former President Barack Obama to speak at a rally with New Jersey Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jim Murphy in Newark, New Jersey U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Makela
New Jersey Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jim Murphy reacts as former President Barack Obama speaks during a rally in Newark, New Jersey U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Makela
Former President Barack Obama greets supporters after joining New Jersey Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jim Murphy at a rally in Newark, New Jersey U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Makela
Former President Barack Obama greets New Jersey Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jim Murphy in Newark, New Jersey U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Makela
Former US President Barack Obama takes photos with members of the crowd as he campaigns for New Jersey Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy in Newark, New Jersey on October 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
Former US President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally for Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Ralph Northam (unseen) in Richmond, Virginia October 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Attendees react as former president Barack Obama greets supporters after joining New Jersey Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jim Murphy at a rally in Newark, New Jersey, U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Makela
Former president Barack Obama rallies with New Jersey Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jim Murphy in Newark, New Jersey, U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Makela
Former US President Barack Obama (R) campaigns for New Jersey Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy in Newark, New Jersey on October 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
Former US President Barack Obama campaigns for New Jersey Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy and his running mate Sheila Oliver in Newark, New Jersey on October 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 19: Former U.S. President Barack Obama walks on stage in support of Democratic candidate Phil Murphy, who is running against Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno for the governor of New Jersey, on October 19, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey. In Obama's first return to the campaign trail, the former president is stumping for Democratic gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia as they prepare for next month's elections. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Audience members take pictures of former US President Barack Obama as he campaigns for New Jersey Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy in Newark, New Jersey on October 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 19: Democratic candidate Phil Murphy, who is running against Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno for the governor of New Jersey , speaks at a rally on October 19, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey. Murphy was later joined by former President Barack Obama This is Obama's first return to the campaign trail to stump for Democratic gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia as they prepare for next month's elections. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 19: Former U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands after speaking at a rally in support of Democratic candidate Phil Murphy, who is running against Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno for the governor of New Jersey, on October 19, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey. In Obama's first return to the campaign trail, the former president is stumping for Democratic gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia as they prepare for next month's elections. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Barack Obama campaigns in support of Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, Democratic candidate for governor, at a rally with supporters in Richmond, Virginia, U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Former US President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally for Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Ralph Northam (R) in Richmond, Virginia October 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
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It points to other privately-operated museums in parkland by the lake, including the Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium.

Among the other arguments by center opponents, construction would "deface" Jackson Park and would disrupt a bird habitat. They also worry Barack Obama will use the center "to continue his political activities by raising money for the Democrat Party" and "speaking out on controversial partisan political issues."

Blakey said in October he didn't want the litigation to drag out, telling attorneys he intended to announce a trial date in December.

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Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mtarm

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