Island construction in middle of Illinois River
More than 70,000 cubic yards of silt and river soil have been dredged and now form the outline of a 21-acre boomerang-shaped island, The Journal Star reports ( http://bit.ly/qIKwre ). The island will be on Peoria Lake near the McClugage Bridge, which takes U.S. Route 24 and U.S. Route 150 over the waterway. The project is expected to be complete in 2012.
Plans have been underway for 15 years to build three islands in the Peoria Lakes. The goal is to restore a diversity of depths for fish habitats.
“When it’s all complete, eventually what we hope to see is a deep water habitat,” said Anthony Heddlesten, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers environmental engineer. “The perfect scenario is that years from now we will see ice fishing shacks covering this whole area during the winter.”
The deep water fish habitats disappeared after a century’s worth of sediment collected in the waterway, expert said. The river navigation channel is 8 to 15 feet deep — in some places up to 20 feet deep — but outside the channel the water is only 1 to 2 1/2 feet deep.
The entire project involves dredging about 200 acres of the Peoria Lakes to between 6 and 8 feet deep and creating three islands over 75 acres. The East Peoria project will cost $8.1 million in state and federal funding. No money has appropriated for the second and third islands.
The U.S. Army Corps also built an island on the Illinois River near Chillicothe in 1994.
Some environmental groups oppose the project. Others, like the Heartland Water Resources Council and Peoria Lakes Basin Alliance, support the islands as one solution.
“Will one island do the job? It will help, but it won’t fix the problem alone,” says Russ Crawford, president of the council and chairman of the alliance.
Joyce Blumenshine, conservation chairperson of The Heart of Illinois Sierra Club, said the group opposes the island’s construction because of costs and because they think it won’t solve the underlying problem.
“It doesn’t deal with the siltation,” Blumenshine said. “Until you deal with the problem, you’re going to keep spending millions upon millions to deal with this. It’s a Band-Aid approach.”