Peoria Journal Star

March 28, 2003

Island project suffers setback
Corps of Engineers says it lacks authority to begin dredging river

By DORI MEINERT
of Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has determined it doesn't have the legal authority to begin dredging the Illinois River and using the sediment to build islands north of the McClugage Bridge.

U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, obtained $2 million in federal money for fiscal 2003 to begin the river restoration project. But corps officials notified him earlier this month the money couldn't be used for the island project without specific congressional authorization.

A bill authorizing such water projects died late last year when Congress failed to complete action.

Smaller river restoration projects that cost less than $5 million each don't require separate authorization. But the island project's total cost is estimated at $16 million, said corps spokesman Ron Fournier.

The $2 million for fiscal 2003 will be re-directed to other nearby river projects, he said.

"The money is definitely going to be spent on the Illinois River," LaHood said.

If not the island project, it will be used for other river restoration projects in the Peoria area, corps officials agreed.

If Congress authorizes the island project within the next year, the snag shouldn't affect the time line for construction, Fournier said. Pre-construction engineering and design work is slated to begin in April and will be completed in federal fiscal year 2004, which begins Oct. 1.

"The project's not dead at all. It's not the least bit dead. We're going to seek authorization to build it one way or another," Fournier said.

The plan to create islands from sediment dredged from the Illinois River has been praised by some local environmentalists as a first step toward restoration of the river and its ecosystem. But others have said the money would be better spent on other restoration projects.

The corps' stated project goal is to "improve depth diversity enhancing aquatic habitat in Peoria Lake with ancillary recreational benefits."

The sediment would be dredged near the eastern shore just north of the McClugage Bridge.