Lake County Forest Preserve officials discover a massive chunk of lake bluff at Fort Sheridan eroded into into Lake Michigan after heavy rains earlier this week.

A major environmental restoration project on the lakefront around Fort Sheridan, estimated to cost about $13.6 million, could begin in the fall of 2015 after years of planning, according to local and regional officials involved with the project.

As part of the federal Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration program, the project would seek to restore dunes, ravines and bluffs through work such as grading, planting native species and removing invasive species and old infrastructure, said Kirston Buczak, project manager for the Chicago District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The plan is expected to enter a 30-day public review soon.

No funding has yet been committed by the local partners, which include the Lake County Forest Preserves, the City of Lake Forest and the Openlands nonprofit, Buczak said. An estimated $4.8 million of the project costs would be split among them, she said, and the rest would be paid for with federal money.

Work began on this project back in 2010, Buczak said, but progress has been slow because of its sheer size and complexity. But those involved say it's a critical opportunity to address environmental needs with federal assistance.

"It's a big deal for us," said Bob Megquier, chief operating officer for Openlands. "It allows us to do work we wanted to do and, quite frankly, it allows us to do work we may not have been able to do."

Openlands Lakeshore Preserve comprises 77 lakefront acres once part of the Fort Sheridan military base, Megquier said.

Just the Openlands portion of the project represents about $3.25 million worth of work, Megquier said. And federal money will cover about $2.1 million of that.

Catherine Czerniak, Lake Forest's director of community development, declined to comment on the project in detail, saying it was still too early in the process. City staff members have met with the U.S. Army Corps and other project partners, she said, but the city still is determining the next steps.

"In general, this is a project that would be a great benefit to the ravines and this ravine in particular," said Chuck Myers, Lake Forest's superintendent of parks and forestry.

Myers referred to the McCormick ravine, which is on Lake Forest property and one of at least four ravines that would be improved through the project. Another 40 acres of bluff and 1.5 miles of beach and lake habitat would also be restored, according to Buczak.

The McCormick ravine already is considered a "high-quality" ravine because of its vegetation, Myers said.

"It's in very good shape," he said, "but the work that needs to be done would improve it significantly."

That work includes removing old pipes and concrete slabs that clog the outfall, replacing invasive non-native species with native species of plants, and building pools in the ravine to encourage fish migration and slow the outflow of stormwater, Myers said.

Another project partner, the town of Fort Sheridan, likely is dropping out of the project because it's taken so long to come to fruition, Buczak said.

After the 30-day public review, the project heads back to the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division of the U.S. Army Corps for approval, Buczak said. Then comes the legally-binding agreement with all of the partners.

In total, there are currently about 30 projects in the U.S. Army Corps' Chicago district – all in various stages of planning, design and construction -- that are leveraging federal dollars through the federal ecosystem restoration program, Buczak said.

But this one is unique, she said.

"It's definitely more complex because of the amount of stormwater flowing into the ravines," Buczak said. "That has been really challenging."

Jim Anderson, natural resource manager for the Lake County Forest Preserves, knows all about the challenges of stormwater. After a heavy rain last week, Anderson surveyed a large swath of the Fort Sheridan preserve bluff that had collapsed into the lake.