CHICAGO - Truckloads of gray sediment from the Illinois River landed with a series of splats Friday as dignitaries once again welcomed the raw material that will provide topsoil for a future lakefront park in Chicago.
It was the latest shipment of silt from Peoria Lakes, under an experimental state program that dredges the obstructionist mud and transports it by barge to soil-starved areas.
The highest-profile use of the substance has been at the former U.S. Steel South Works site at 87th Street and Lake Michigan, a giant slag field that is earmarked for mixed-used redevelopment and greenspace.
The 70 barges of sediment (104,000 tons) that arrived in 2004 at a cost of $2 million were spread on the ground and have long since converted to hilly black dirt that is blanketed with grass and rustic plant life. This summer's smaller-scale delivery is seven barges' worth and cost $275,000 to move; once again, the shipments arrive at a boat slip, and the shiny, pudding-like contents are relayed a short distance by dumptrucks.
"Steel forged at this site helped build some of Chicago's greatest landmarks, including the John Hancock Building and the Sears Tower," Tim Mitchell, superintendent of the Chicago Park District, said at a news conference where the fresh silt served as backdrop. "Now it's our turn ... to help reinvigorate this site. I look forward to the day when this industrial wasteland takes its place among Chicago's world-renown system of public parks."
Mitchell said the 85-acre park envisioned for the property is a long way from being done, in part because of the estimated $100 million his district would need to convert the brownfield into a well-manicured, tree-filled park.
John Marlin, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources scientist who is credited with creating the "mud-to-parks" program, said it would take at least another 150 barges to cover the 85 acres. Another 60-acre park is planned for a different portion of the slagfield, Mitchell said.
Yet the state budget contains no more money to continue the recycling effort, said Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, who doubles as the chairman of the Illinois River Coordinating Council.
"We have exhausted our resources for this fiscal year," Quinn said. "But hope springs eternal."
The latest transport of sediment - 10,500 tons - was financed by a $250,000 grant from Marlin's agency and $25,000 from the city of East Peoria. The silt was scooped recently from the East Peoria side of the Illinois River, a commercial and recreational waterway that is choked with the mud.
River sediment wasn't the only thing recycled Friday. Quinn revived his favorite wise-crack about the environmental project.
"It's the kind of mud-slinging that we need to have more of in Illinois," he said.
Mike Ramsey can be reached at (312) 857-2323 or email@example.com.