Mud-to-Parks Project Begins in Illinois River
Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, Congressman Ray LaHood (R-Peoria), Chicago Park District General Superintendent Timothy J. Mitchell and others celebrated the first scoop of sediment dredged from the Illinois River at Peoria Lake destined for Chicago as part of the innovative “Mud-to-Parks” project.
Through the Mud-to-Parks project, 105,000 tons of sediment will be dredged from Peoria Lake, loaded onto 70 barges and shipped 163 miles up the Illinois River to Chicago’s old U.S. Steel South Works facility, now a slag-covered site devoid of life. There, it will be unloaded and spread atop the slag, covering 17 acres to a depth of 2-3 feet.
Native grasses will be planted and the rich, fertile sediment will soon turn into a green park on the Lake Michigan shore.
“The Mud-to-Parks project is a great victory for the environment, both in Central Illinois and Chicago,” said Quinn, who chairs the Illinois River Coordinating Council. “We’re reducing sediment build-up in Peoria and simultaneously transforming an industrial slag field into a green park.”
“Over the years, there has been a lot of talk of combating the silt problem in the Illinois River,” LaHood said, “And today is a day when talk turns into action. This ‘silt send-off’ launches a national model for creative solutions to the problem of sedimentation. I applaud Pat Quinn for his leadership on this issue, and know it is a bright future for Peoria Lake and the entire river because of all the people who are dedicated to saving this great natural resource.”
The trailblazing idea was conceived by Dr. John Marlin, an Illinois Department of Natural Resources scientist. Marlin ran a pilot project in 2002, in which sediment was collected near Peoria and barged to a Chicago landfill, where it was unloaded and spread. Grasses now grow on the site.
Marlin approached Quinn in February, 2003 and a diverse working coalition was organized.
“This is a model of bipartisan, intra-agency cooperation which couldn’t have been accomplished without the aid of Congressman LaHood, the Army Corps of Engineers, State of Illinois, City of Chicago, and park districts in both Chicago and Peoria,” Quinn said. “And it’s a living tribute to the vision and tenacity of Dr. John Marlin, who showed us all how one person can make a difference.”
“This project is the first of its kind in the nation, ” Mitchell said. “This is a huge recycling program that will save taxpayers money by using clean soil to create a beautiful new park.”
“There’s enough sediment in Peoria Lake to fill a football field 10 miles high,” said Dr. Marlin, the plan’s architect.
Sedimentation is the biggest problem facing the Illinois River. Each year, 14 million tons of sediment go into the river basin, the equivalent of 17,808 truckloads daily. A particular problem in the Peoria Lake area, sediment reduces navigability of barge traffic, and destroys habitat for fish and waterfowl. Some duck populations have decreased by 90 percent. Boating and other water sports have been greatly hindered, as well.
Meanwhile, Chicago has dozens of ” brownfields” and old industrial sites in need of restoration. Obtaining topsoil from suburban sites is costly and requires shipment by thousands of trucks over state highways and Chicago streets. Each barge handles the equivalent of 75 semitrailer trucks, so barging the topsoil limits wear and tear on state and city roadways.
“The sediment in Peoria Lake originally came from far upriver,” Quinn said. “The Mud-to-Parks project is helping Mother Nature return the soil to its source.”
“The model for this innovative project can be applied anywhere,” LaHood said. “Clean Illinois River sediment can be dredged from countless sites between Beardstown and LaSalle, and used as topsoil for development or recreational purposes throughout Illinois.”
Once dredged, the sediment will make the twoday trip up the Illinois River by barge to the Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal to the Calumet Sag Channel to the Little Calumet River, past Lake Calumet to a slip near Lake Michigan at 87th Street
in Chicago. There, it will be excavated from the barge and trucked a short distance to the old steel mill site for spreading.
When the sediment reaches an appropriate consistency, native grasses and other vegetation will be planted. Within weeks, some rye grasses will appear. By spring, 2005, the vegetation will be in full bloom on this once-devastated industrial site. The Chicago Park District—which obtained the property from USX Corporation—will build a 17-acre park on the Peoria Lake mud. New housing construction will also occur nearby, and a gleaming new lakefront community will be created.
Sportsman, bird watchers and boaters in both Peoria and Chicago benefit from the project. And migratory birds who use either the Illinois River flyway or the Lake Michigan shoreline will find slightly better-protected habitats and food sources.
As Lieutenant Governor, Quinn chairs the Illinois River Coordinating Council (IRCC), an inter-agency body responsible for protecting the Illinois River Watershed and its tributaries (the Calumet, Chicago, DesPlaines, DuPage, Fox, Kankakee, La Moine, Mackinaw, Sangamon, Spoon and Vermilion Rivers). Under Quinn, the IRCC has tackled the protection of wetlands and eagle habitats, riverbank restoration and clean-up, and strengthening the voices of river advocates.
One of the six “citizen members” of the Council is Brad McMillan, Chief-of-Staff to Congressman La-Hood. In his fifth term in Congress, LaHood is the leading Capitol Hill supporter for “Illinois Rivers 2020”, a $2.5 billion long-range program to preserve the sprawling watershed. LaHood has been a fervent advocate for Illinois’ inclusion in the innovative Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) to prevent stream bank erosion. Illinois is among the leading states in CREP participation.
In addition to Lt. Gov. Quinn’s and Cong. LaHood’s offices, partners in the Mud-to-Parks project include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Illinois Department of Agriculture, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Illinois Waste Management and Research Center, City of Chicago Department of Planning, City of Chicago Department of Environment, Chicago Park District, Fon du Lac Park District (East Peoria), Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, Artco Fleeting, Midwest Foundation, N.E. Finch Company, Caterpillar Inc., Kress Corporation and others.