Hoosiers eye dredging again
Proposals to dredge silt from the upper reaches of the Kankakee River will be discussed Wednesday by the Kankakee River Basin Commission of Indiana.
The proposals, along 36 miles of the Kankakee, 4 feet deep and 50 feet wide, are in response to record flooding in the watershed in February. The work is proposed from the north in LaPorte County, which borders Michigan, to Stark County, to the south.
Opposition has developed in both Illinois and Indiana because of expected increases in sand and silt loads — a problem for decades that has advanced farther than ever down the Kankakee River in Illinois this year.
Boating access between the Kankakee and Iroquois rivers at Aroma Park was impeded this summer. Sand was deposited on high banks in Kankakee, blocked a boat launch in Kankakee River State Park 2½ miles downstream from Warner Bridge and created a sandbar in the millrace at Wilmington for the first time.
Proposals for silt and sand removal have been made by county officials in LaPorte County on the Kanakee River and Stark County on the Yellow River, the Kankakee’s major Indiana tributary, which joins the Kankakee just west of Knox.
Opposition has been organized by Jim Sweeney, of Schererville, Ind. — secretary of the bi-state Friends of the Kankakee and a state and national director of the Izaak Walton League, a century-old conservation organization.
“If they do what they want upstream, there’s going to be a lot more sand in the river,” he said. “I hope everyone remembers what was started 30 years ago with legal action by Illinois,” he added about a state lawsuit that stopped a proposal to clear trees from riverbanks in Indiana and remove snags of fallen trees from the river channel. That lawsuit declared the Kankakee to be a navigable waterway based on historic use of the river and subjected projects to review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“The Corps of Engineers is not going to let the Kankakee River be dredged,” said Jody Melton, long-time executive director of the KRBC. “They might let them clean some areas out.”
The proposal, involving the use of a drag-line or long-each excavator, outlines erosion control methods and would require depositing silt 10 feet landward of the top of banks, then spread evenly.
“Standing trees in the way of removing the silt will be cut, with stumps left on the bank intact,” the proposal states.
Melton said he thinks “that calmer heads are prevailing. ... Newton County and Lake County people have been talking to people in Illinois in Kankakee and Iroquois counties. ... We need to have assessments down the Kankakee all the way to Aroma Park and then we will have to do the Iroquois.”
Chris Knochel, 18-year Newton County surveyor and current chairman of the KRBC, has been planning a pilot project to reduce erosion on the south side of the Kankakee River, east of Interstate 65, where banks of the dredged stream are essentially vertical.
The proposal, initiated by the landowner, is to replace the vertical levee with a sloped one that will allow the river to spread out during flooding and take pressure off the banks.
If the project is successful in reducing flood damage to the bank “we do have 8,000 feet to progress once the initial project is successful,” he said. That’s a bit over one and a half miles of the 14 miles of Newton County riverbank. “Part of our problem is we’ve been trying to repair the bank and realized a number of years ago that we’re doing the same thing year after year and expecting different results.”
Next week’s KRBC meeting will draw river advocates from Illinois, with Jimmy Carter and Kathe Brunnick representing the Kankakee River Conservancy District, which monitors the river east of Momence.
“The dredging is OK. It’s a good idea, but what happens to the residual sand they are dredging?” Carter asked. “... If they’re not going to do anything to prevent the residual sand down here, then it isn’t. I think they ought to dredge the entire river.”
Brunnick said: “I have a lot of concerns about what they’re doing because the sand is going to flood in bad at the state line.
“I think our entire board is very concerned with what they’re doing in Indiana, They clear all the vegetation just like they’re doing on the Williams Ditch out in Illinois Heights (east of Momence and north of the river) and all that sand is just going to wash on down.”.... If they cut the trees along the banks in Indiana, all that sand is coming down.”