Friday, June 25


Governor backs plan to improve waterway efficiency and restore ecosystems

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[JUNE 25, 2004]  WASHINGTON -- Delivering on an Opportunity Returns promise to advocate for federal funding for lock expansion and to address important environmental concerns, Gov. Rod Blagojevich's appointee to the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association urged Congress on Thursday to move forward on a proposed plan for navigation improvements and ecosystem restoration on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. Gary Clark, director of the Office of Water Resources for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, testified at the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment.

"Governor Blagojevich, through his Opportunity Returns initiative to reinvigorate the economy, has strongly supported the need for an improved and modernized waterway transportation system that includes new and longer locks," Clark said.

Clark serves as chair of the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association, which includes governors' representatives from all five basin states -- Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin. He also chairs the Governor's Interagency Review Team, which reviewed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study for waterway improvements.

"The benefits for the future of Illinois' agriculture and the state's economic growth is unquestioned, and the long-term benefits to reversing the degradation of the rivers' ecosystems are critical needs that are addressed by the corps' integrated plan," Clark said, noting that to maximize benefits to Illinois, Gov. Blagojevich believes it is imperative that a new, 1,200-foot lock at LaGrange on the Illinois River be one of the first three sites to benefit from the navigation improvements.

The Upper Mississippi River System serves a variety of critically important functions in the upper Midwest. It is a commercial navigation route, a home for birds and fish, a recreational haven, and a source of water for local communities and industry. Clark said that while the Corps of Engineers study does not address all the uses, needs and issues on the Upper Mississippi River System, it tackles two of the most important and closely related ones: navigation efficiency and ecosystem integrity.

"Governor Blagojevich believes that ecosystem restoration and navigation improvements must move forward in tandem, so that measurable and substantial progress can be made toward both," Clark said. "Both efforts must be adequately funded annually."


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Gov. Blagojevich has also directed his staff and state agencies to work with the other basin states to send a unified message to Washington, D.C., in support of the plan prepared by the Corps of Engineers. He is pushing for an $18 million addition to the corps' fiscal 2005 budget to initiate pre-construction, engineering and design of the navigation improvements.

The Upper Mississippi River plan calls for an initial investment of $1.878 billion over 15 years for navigation improvements and $1.462 billion for ecosystem restoration during the same time period.

Illinois' review team includes representatives from the departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Transportation, Natural Resources, and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Review team members have expertise in transportation, economic development, production agriculture, fisheries management, ecosystem restoration, and water resources planning and engineering.

Gov. Blagojevich's Opportunity Returns regional economic development plan is an aggressive, comprehensive approach to creating jobs in Illinois. The governor has divided the state into 10 regions -- finding areas with common economic strengths and needs, and developing a plan with specific actions for each region. This grass-roots effort is a product of significant outreach over several months with business, civic and labor leaders, and elected officials. Opportunity Returns contains tangible actions to make each region more accessible, more marketable, more entrepreneurial and more attractive to business.

[News release from the governor's office]

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