One-year tax increase will fund Salt Fork study
URBANA – Environmentalists praised a Champaign County judge's decision to allow a one-year tax increase to fund a study of the Upper Salt Fork that would enable farmers, residents and ecology experts to work together to perform maintenance on the stream's path.
The Upper Salt Fork Drainage District is getting a one-year tax increase to fund a study by Midwest Streams Inc., the district's consultants, of the river's flow.
The district had asked to make the tax increase permanent, but Judge Holly Clemons this week denied the request to increase the annual tax levy permanently from $1.15 to $5 an acre for landowners.
Clark Bullard of the Prairie Rivers Network, who testified as expert witness, said the existing channel "is an unstable shape that requires continuous redredging, destroying fish and wildlife habitat in the process. We support the drainage district's goal of reshaping the channel into a stable, more natural form that is self-maintaining."
Cecily Smith of the Prairie Rivers Network said she is pleased that the drainage district is interested in working with environmentalists.
"We do know that one thing that has been considered (in the study) is a two-stage channel, reshaping the waterways so they would have more natural shape," instead of a straight, faster-moving channel that erodes banks quickly, she said.
Drainage district commissioners contacted by The News-Gazette referred questions to Champaign attorney Jeffrey Tock, who did not return calls for comment.
"We feel like we're maintaining a dialogue with the district commissioners," Smith said. "This is an important first step toward looking at solutions that are ultimately longer-lasting but could also be cheaper. If you do it a certain way, you won't have to dredge as often."
The study could also find ways to save trees along the banks of the river.
In a press release, J.P. Peters of Save Our Trees of St. Joseph said, "We agree that a long-term maintenance plan needs to be in place, and shared with landowners, before a major tax increase can be granted. We are pleased that the drainage commissioners are committed to considering alternatives to traditional dredging and clear-cutting practices. We advocate responsible drainage, and as landowners we look forward to working with them to develop a reasonable plan."