Chillicothe citizen's group opposes proposed barge operation along riverfront
Chillicothe residents under the banner "Save Our Riverfront" oppose a proposed barge mooring and fleeting operation along the Illinois River.
Applicant Richard Hamm is asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Rock Island District to permit allowing up to 32 barges to moor along 2,500 feet of the west side of Chillicothe Island in configurations up to four barges wide. Barges would attach to nine concrete block anchors on land via cables.
The barge mooring area would face towards the city. Hamm owns most of the island.
Chillicothe Mayor Mike Hughes said the city's riverfront park is a main attraction for residents and visitors alike, particularly birdwatchers who come to view the eagles, pelicans, cranes, and other species living in the area.
"This simply is not the place for this. I mean, take a look at that. That's beautiful. Can you imagine (32) barges out there? This simply is not the place. It's less safe for residents is less safe for our visitors. It's less safe for wildlife and the navigation of the river itself," Hughes said.
An assessment by the Army Corps of Engineers found the barge operation wouldn't impede the navigation channel. No dredging or fill would be required for the project.
The proposal was submitted to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for review, but district staff said the area has no historical or archaeological significance, and doesn't appear to have an impact on endangered species listed in Peoria County based on a preliminary review. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was informally consulted, but could still weigh in further.
Tracy Fox of the Heart of Illinois Sierra Club said local environmentalists consider the proposed location wrong for the barge operation, with concerns of barge spills, breakaways, and other potential problems which could impact the local habitat and wildlife.
"Chillicothe's riverfront is a popular spot to watch eagles in the winter ,and migrating waterfall in the spring and fall," Fox said. "Much of the riverfront between Peoria and Sparland is industrial or inaccessible. Chillicothe and River Beach Road to the south are some of the best places to see the seasonal birds up and down the Illinois River."
Two eagle's nests were visible in treetops along the island's western shoreline from Chillicothe's Cutright Community Park at the foot of W. Elm Street.
Fox said the Corps hasn't yet done a formal environmental assessment or wildlife impact survey.
Mike Krost is a former Medina Township Trustee, and the former president of the Chillicothe Park District board. He said community members weren't notified of Hamm's proposal until the day before the end of the original commenting period. An extension was granted through Nov. 26 after the public notice distribution error became apparent.
Krost said he's concerned the permit as proposed has no specified time limit, or provisions for reclamation if the development later falls into disuse. He said the barge operation provides no tangible economic benefits for the city at large.
"That barge may sit here for a day or two, or a week, or a month. We don't know how long and we don't know what's in it. And eventually it might move. Or it might just sit there for a while. We don't know how long. Empties could sit for a long time," Krost said.
The Chillicothe Park District board of trustees passed a unanimous resolution opposing the project. Park District director Kevin Yates said the barge operation would detract from activities at the nearby historic Shore Acres Park and Clubhouse.
Krost and other members of the "Save Our Riverfront" group
Hamm also owns Hamm's Holiday Harbor, a marina south of town. Calls seeking comment went unanswered or were sent to voicemail.