I was the representative of Peoria County to the Governor’s Conference on the Management of the Illinois River System, Oct. 5 and 6 at the Holiday Inn City Center. This is my summation of the conference, realizing as is typical, and some panel meetings overlapped so I was not able to attend all:
The approximately 300 conference attendees were mainly the speakers, exhibitors, public employees of conservation agencies, Economic Development, U. S. Army Corp of Engineers and tourism promoters. Locally, Kim St. John, Prairie Rivers RC&D, USDA-NRCS and Bob Frazee from the University of Illinois Extension, were more than capable Conferencing Co- Chairs. Notably absent were Gail Norton, Secretary of the Interior who was to be the Keynote Speaker and Governor Blagojevich; both invited but both involved with projects of greater priority. Pat Quinn was an enthusiastic presenter of “The Illinois River System: Focus and Vision”. Brad McMillan represented Ray LaHood’s office on a panel promoting “Nature Based Tourism as did Vicki Clark from PACVB. Terry Kohlbus, Tri-County Regional Planning spoke on “Linking Community Revitalization and River Restoration Goals, Plans and Projects. Tom Gerund from EDC spoke on “Back to Nature: Technology Based Resource Inventory”. Dan Silverthorn, representing the Heart of Illinois River Port District (Transport) spoke on “The River as an Economic Resource: Pursuing Local Development Opportunities”. All did outstanding jobs in presenting their respective subjects.
Numerous other panel speakers and moderators presented information and took questions on such Illinois River related subjects as “Sediment Removal and Beneficial Uses”, “Data Collection and GIS Applications”, plans for the City of Havana, the Emiquon Basin, “Monitoring and Evaluation Techniques of Sediment and Nutrient Delivery for the Illinois River”, “Gathering Stakeholders and Keeping Them On-Board” and Watershed Planning from both and Urban and Rural perspective.
Among the highlights of the panel discussions was a report on the barging of sediment mined from the Peoria area Illinois River to Chicago and its benefits and the possibility of doing the same thing for New Orleans. I believe that the Peoria County Board should, once all the facts are gathered, take a position on what to do the silt accumulating in the Peoria Lake. Panel discussions were on how to keep the soil on land, (another area on which the Peoria County Board should take a more active role), how to use satellite images and subsequent aerial assessments, the role of GIS and how much information is available free on the internet, creating riparian buffers, the benefits of programs such as CREP, watershed planning such as Emiquon, LaGrange and Spunky Bottoms in Brown County, Spring Lake Bottoms in Tazewell and Mason Counties; these wetland and conservation projects developed with the help of volunteers, various state and local agencies and worldwide organizations like Nature Conservancy. The role of both private and public dollars and cleaning up the river and restoring water quality, were all subjects that kept most of the conference attendees around to the close at 1:45 P.M. Thursday; the early closing allowing the visitors time to spend some money in our area and see the sights.
My overall assessment of the benefits of this conference would rate an “A” and from what I observed, would rate the same from all attendees. County Board members should ask me for more details and how I perceive the benefits of this conference to Peoria County. Also I may have missed some local people in attendance that I failed to recognize. I did not notice or meet any board members from any other county and no city officials were present; the exception being Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis who gave the opening welcome and then left the premises for other priorities. Jim has a lot on his plate.
While I had earlier signed up for the opening day “Illinois River Watershed Conservation Tour; interest was so high I did not get a seat. (I had taken similar Prairie River tours) The co-chairs did an excellent job of presenting some of the best practices in soil conservation in our area to those conference attendees who were fortunate to get a seat on the bus.
Holiday Inn City Center did an excellent job of hosting the conference and the food and service was exceptional.
Total cost of the conference to the County was $120.00