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NewsTribune photo/Chris Yucus Ottawa Mayor Robert Eschbach (right) speaks with U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Susan Hedman, U.S. EPA Administrator of Region V, in front of poster detailing Ottawa’s future riverfront development vision Friday in Ottawa. EPA awarded Ottawa $200,000 to clean up the north banks of the Illinois River near where the grant was announced.
OTTAWA — Remember flooded Central School and its contaminated grounds along the Illinois River? The site — and land surrounding it — was even messier than people realized.
Fortunately, the city now has new funds to help clean it up. Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded $200,000 to help the city clean up 21 acres of riverfront property.
“There was a coal gasification plant here in the late 1800s and one of the byproducts was coal tars. That site has been remediated,” Mayor Bob Eschbach said, indicating spots along the north banks of the river where the school once stood. “But we just discovered along the edge of the track here an area where there once was a raceway, and there are coal tars in that area now.”
The grant announced Friday will be used for cleanup efforts in conjunction with Nicor, which is the responsible party.
The grant was announced near the grounds of the former Central School, which was demolished — though the contamination remains — and behind Illinois Valley Community College’s satellite campus, which itself is a success story in Ottawa’s cleanup campaign.
“It’s fitting to be standing here today making this announcement,” observed Susan Hedman, administrator for U.S. EPA Region 5, indicating the former post office that now houses the IVCC Ottawa center. “There was a long period when the property was vacant because there was uncertainty as to whether contamination made this site unusable. “Uncertainty is the biggest barrier to redevelopment of brownfield sites, and that’s where U.S. EPA brownfield grants make all the difference.”
EPA actually awarded three grants totaling $1 million. Two other communities were awarded $400,000 each: Rochelle (for assessment of so-called “brownfields”) and South Beloit (to clean up the former Primecast Inc. property and two gas stations).
“I’m proud that these three communities are receiving grants that will directly improve the lives of folks who live and work in my district,” said U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who was on hand for Friday’s presentation. “These grants will provide much-needed resources and give Ottawa, Rochelle and South Beloit the opportunity to invest in projects that will make life better and communities stronger for everyone in them.”
Hedman quoted President Barack Obama in noting that a community need not choose between a strong economy and a healthy environment.
“And, in fact, I always like to say that a healthy environment is a necessary foundation for a strong economy,” she said.
Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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