April 15, 2013
On April 15th and 16th in Chicago, Illinois, the America’s WETLAND Foundation – a non-profit working with industry and other NGO’s to restore wetlands on the Gulf Coast – will hold a conference with Governor Quinn on maintaining waterway commerce on the Mississippi River.
The Chicago location makes this event an ideal occasion for Governor Quinn and the state of Illinois to put forth a bold vision for the future of Chicago’s waterways. It is not in Illinois’ long term interests, either economic or environmental, to defer to a few commercial operators whose business model is one of taxpayer-funded river degradation.
Army Corps data has shown that commodity shipments through the Chicago Area Waterway System have declined precipitously in the preceding decades, with an approximately 45% drop in tonnage from 1994-2009. This is a timeframe that includes periods of significant growth for the national economy, and yet the trend is steadily downward.
There is no reason to allow the barge industry to hold Illinois hostage to a dying economic model. Chicago is one of the world’s great cities, and yet its rivers have been neglected, marked by a lack of public access and a legacy of pollution, as barges continuously churn up toxic sediments accumulated in the bottom of canals. Illinois need not go down with the ship, however. The state would be wise to transition to a green economy that showcases water as a community asset — making it publicly accessible, cleaning it up, and dealing with the invasive species problem.