An article from today's Daily Herald concerning the ongoing work on the West Branch of the DuPage River.
New look for West Branch
Reconstruction part of project to remove contaminated soil
By Marni Pyke
Posted Saturday, June 23, 2007
Pools of water swirl around boulders in the West Branch of the DuPage River.
The sun shines down on the swift current, while on the banks of the river, lilies and wild rice wave in the wind.
It’s nature at its best, but this view of the recently reconstructed reach of the DuPage River is courtesy of an engineered plan.
“This will help jumpstart the river and provide an important habitat for fish,” said John Wills, president of Christopher B. Burke Engineering West.
Forest preserve leaders got an inside look at improvement efforts on the West Branch Friday.
An 8-mile stretch of the waterway and Kress Creek are being cleared of soil contaminated with thorium. The problem originated in the 1930s at the Rare Earths Facility in West Chicago.
The facility produced thorium, radium and uranium for gas light mantles as well as for the U.S. government, which used the materials in its emerging nuclear power program.
For decades, water runoff from the plant carried contaminated soil into a nearby storm sewer and from there into the river.
Now the new owners of the Rare Earths Facility, Tronox Inc., are paying $74 million for a basic river cleanup. A $10 million federal grant is covering the extras that will enable workers to restore the river and wetlands to a state that might have existed prior to the county’s urbanization.
The work started in 2005 and will likely last until 2010, running through Blackwell, Warrenville Grove and McDowell Grove forest preserves.
“I thought it was a crazy idea, eviscerating the river from one end to the other,” district Director of Natural Resources John Oldenburg said.
Now, however, he’s convinced the project will leave the waterway healthier and more diverse than before.
“The river had a sameness; it was over-wide and shallow,” Oldenburg said.
Under the restoration plan, workers will remove countless tons of thorium-laced soil from the river bed and banks. It will be taken by train to a treatment facility in Utah.
As part of the plan, the river waters need to be diverted between construction zones. Prior to the diversion, dozens of species of mussels and other aquatic life must be scooped up and relocated.
Currently, workers are focusing on a stretch of the river north of Mack Road in Blackwell.
The construction zone is a daunting site. Mud stretches as far as the eye can see, huge pumps carry river water downstream, and piles of stones rise into the air.
It’s a far cry from the pastoral river view that forest preserve visitors are accustomed to.
“I’m speechless,” said Connie Schmidt, issues coordinator with the River Prairie Group of the Sierra Club.
But like others on the tour, Schmidt said she was optimistic for the river’s future.
“It’s been brought about by an injury but it provides an opportunity to make things better,” district Executive Director Brent Manning said.
“This almost completes the puzzle,” district President Dewey Pierotti said.
Upstream from the excavation area, a rebuilt section of the river is getting back to normal.
“It’s amazing how quickly the vegetation has come back,” said Wills, who is monitoring the work for the forest preserve as well as DuPage County, Warrenville and West Chicago. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also has oversight.
The district is planting about 1,000 trees, such as oaks, and wetland species along the banks.
The sides of the river are bolstered with stones, tree branches and root wads to ward off erosion problems that can hurt water quality.
The depth of the rebuilt river will range from 18 inches to 6 feet. Its width will vary, and planners are installing shallow, rocky areas as well as side channels to encourage a variety of species to thrive.
Work is also ongoing on a “deep pool” project in Blackwell. This involves a 4-acre pond that will go to 20 feet in depth. The district and Illinois Department of Natural Resources will stock the pool with fish, and it should provide a place for vulnerable species to winter in, naturalists said.