EAST PEORIA — Gov. Pat Quinn visited the East Peoria riverfront Wednesday to announce a round of mud-slinging of a different sort - the 2012 Mud-to-Parks project.
"We're here to fight for the Illinois River and all the communities and people who depend on it for drinking water, navigation, for recreational boating, for fishing or just looking at the river," Quinn said.
A clamshell bucket operates offshore from the EastPort Marina, pulling up sediment from the river bottom and puts it into awaiting barges, which will transport more than 90,000 tons of the thick silt 168 miles to the Lake Michigan shore in Chicago.
"Midwest Foundation is dredging what we call the Ben and Jerry's method. They bring it up in solid chunks and put it in the barge, then we ship it to Chicago. We're not shipping water," said John "Dr. Mud" Marlin, a research affiliate at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center.
The soil will be placed on the former site of U.S. Steel South Works mill to develop a new park on the lakefront. Soil from the Illinois River also was shipped to the Chicago site in 2004 and 2007.
"It's a win for the environment and the boating right here in central Illinois that's very special to our fisherman, to our boaters," Quinn said. "And it's also a great win for building a park in a place that right now you can't grow anything at all."
Marlin said enough sediment sits at the bottom of Peoria Lakes to fill a football field 10 miles high.
The buildup has left the Illinois River at depths of two feet or lower outside of the boat channel, making parts of the river impossible to navigate for many boats.
After the dredging project, depth will be restored to six to eight feet.
Quinn has been a proponent of the project since his days as lieutenant governor when Marlin approached him in 2003 with plans for the first Mud-to-Parks project.
That mud was extracted from Lower Peoria Lake near Spindler Marina and deposited at the U.S. Steel site in Chicago and now boasts 79 species of plants on the former slag field, the Illinois Natural History Survey reported.
The mud from the river bottom also has been used for a project at Banner Marsh and one at a landfill in Pekin.