URBANA – A river conservation group is pleased that more ideas will be considered in restoration of area rivers as a result of a final consent decree involving an ammonia spill six years ago that killed tens of thousands of fish.
U.S. Chief District Judge Michael McCuskey on Feb. 7 approved a consent decree that settles a federal lawsuit filed against the University of Illinois, the Champaign-Urbana Sanitary District and CEDA Inc., the university's cleaning contractor.
The suit stems from an ammonia spill on July 11, 2002, caused by a cleaning project at the UI's Abbott Power Plant. A high concentration of ammonia was released to the sanitary district, which discharged it into the Saline Branch Drainage Ditch and the Salt Fork of the Vermilion River. More than 100,000 fish died along 42 miles of waterway, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Included in the settlement is an agreement that the UI, the sanitary district and CEDA will pay $450,000 to the U.S. for natural resource restoration projects, along with $41,000 for expenses.
Trustees for the settlement are the U.S. Department of the Interior through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of Illinois through the Department of Natural Resources and the Director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
The restoration projects include rock structures to reduce erosion and create pools, which would benefit aquatic life and improve water quality. The trustees will take comments about designs of rock structures for the Saline Branch, but have not yet decided on projects for the Salt Fork, court records show.
The trustees will prepare a restoration plan for the Salt Fork and will seek ideas from the public in developing that plan.
"We are really happy about that," said Glynnis Collins, a water resource scientist with Prairie Rivers.
The river watchdog group would like to see other solutions, including possible purchase of additional land along the rivers to protect the streams, she said.
"We believe the acquisition of property along the impacted waterways should be an important component of restoration activities," she said. "We were concerned that they were proposing only rock structures as restoration and hadn't considered a broader spectrum of restoration projects."
Collins said this is the largest natural resources damages settlement in Illinois and also the first settlement where money and responsibility will be shared by state and federal trustees.
"It is very important to set a precedent for the ecologically sound and permanent restoration of damaged resources," Collins said. "These restoration efforts should not only provide protection of the streams we depend on for recreation and as a source for drinking water, but also restore habitat to support the fish that depend on it for their very survival."