One river commission ends and a new one readies for start for Kankakee, Yellow rivers (Post-Tribune)


As the Kankakee River Basin Commission conducted its last meeting Thursday, it heard a report recommending a 40-year plan for controlling and adapting to the river’s fluctuating levels.

Earlier this year, the Indiana General Assembly formed the Kankakee River Basin and Yellow River Basin Development Commission to take the place of the KRBC, which was established by a 1977 law.

The new commission will have nine members instead of the KRBC’s 24, but it will cover the same eight Indiana counties drained by the Kankakee and Yellow rivers.

Unlike the KRBC, the new body will have a dedicated funding source – an assessment on each acre of farm land and other property in the drainage basin — to help pay for its projects.

“We have a new day for the Kankakee River basin,” KRBC Executive Director Scott Pelath said. “We have new things we could dream about doing.”[Most read] Chicago Teachers Union group’s trip to Venezuela, praise of socialist leader slammed as ‘propaganda tour’ »

Pelath, who will also be executive director of the new commission, takes office after July 1.

State Rep. Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron, who had attended the KRBC’s first meeting, also worked on legislation creating the new body.

“I look forward to the new commission and partnering with nature as we move ahead,” he said.

The new commission will work from the report compiled by Christopher B. Burke Engineering LLC and Robert C. Barr, of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Although much of Indiana’s 90-mile stretch of the Kankakee was dredged and straightened in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Barr said it’s still a river and acts like a river.[Most read] ‘That could be my son’: An anxious vigil at scene of fatal shooting in Chicago Lawn »

“It’s not a ditch,” he said. “It can’t be managed like a ditch.”

Dredging the river destroyed one of the nation’s largest wetland areas but also created rich land for farming.

Siavash Beik, vice president and principal engineer for Christopher B. Burke, said adaptation should a keyword for dealing with the Kankakee and Yellow rivers.

He said that means recognizing that some flooding will occur as the amount and intensity of rainfall continues to increase, and taking steps to reduce the damage from floods.

“Frequent flooding is the result of more rain,” Beik said, “not just more sediment.”[Most read] Severe thunderstorm watch issued as system threatens hail, strong winds and heavy downpours that may cause flooding »

He said the report calls for a 40-year series of “common-sense and feasible” actions without adverse impacts on people and properties downstream.

“We cannot solve our problems at the expense of Illinois,” he said.

Recommendations include “bio-engineering” along the Yellow River’s banks to reduce sand flowing into the Kankakee; moving some Kankakee River berms farther back to “give the river some room;” keeping and maintaining 8.6 miles of berms; removing large trees on the downstream Yellow River; building some water-retention and –detention areas away from the Kankakee; and removing or replacing bridges that restrict the water’s flow.

Carrying out all the strategies in the report over 40 years would cost about $133 million in current dollars, without accounting for future inflation and other cost increases.

The new Kankakee and Yellow rivers’ commission expects to receive nearly $3 million a year initially from property assessments, and it also will be able to seek federal grants.[Most read] In search of the man behind the ‘Guy with thick Chicago accent helps coyote pup’ video. Plus, the fate of the coyote. »

Few of the more than 70 people at the KRBC meeting questioned Barr and Beik. But KRBC member Lee Nagai, a representative of the Starke County Soil and Water Conservation District, challenged some of the report’s recommendations.

“They continue to say that the solution to flooding is to allow more flooding,” he said after the meeting, noting the recommendations to breach river berms in some areas.

He also contended that the report should have recommended some dredging work and more tree removal along the river.

Jim Sweeney, president of the Izaak Walton League’s Porter County chapter, said he was “really, really encouraged” by the report.

“It includes some elements they’ve never talked about before, like setback levees,” he said. “It seems like they’re starting to get serious about it.”[Most read] Real Talk: Why Matt Nagy’s new approach to the preseason has its perks — and its challenges »

Several Illinois residents attended the meeting to hear the report, which included recommendations for their state’s side of the river, which was not dredged.

However, the Kankakee in Illinois doesn’t have a body like the KRBC or the new Kankakee commission, to plan and coordinate work on the river.

“This is a really great day,” Illinois State Rep. Thomas M. Bennett said. “Now we have to figure out how to make it happen.”

Tim Zorn is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.

Lawmakers consider draining some members to improve effectiveness of Kankakee River Basin Commission

2019 Indiana General Assembly

Lawmakers consider draining some members to improve effectiveness of Kankakee River Basin Commission
Former state Rep. Scott Pelath, now the executive director of the Kankakee River Basin Commission, at podium left, speaks Tuesday to the Indiana House Committee on Government Reduction about a proposal to reduce the commission’s size to 9 members from 24. House Bill 1270 was unanimously approved by the committee and next will be considered by the full House.Dan Carden, The Times

INDIANAPOLIS — The eight-county commission tasked with minimizing the impact of Kankakee River flooding in Northwest Indiana may be slimmed down in the hope of improving its effectiveness.

House Bill 1270, which won unanimous committee approval Tuesday, would shrink the current, 24-member Kankakee River Basin Commission to a 9-member panel, with each member required to have experience in construction, project management, flood control or drainage.

One member would be appointed by the county commissioners in each of the eight counties whose water drains into the Kankakee River, including Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties. The ninth member would be appointed by the governor.

State Rep. Doug Gutwein, R-Francesville, the sponsor of the proposal, said his goal is to streamline the commission because right now “there’s just too many people on that commission,” he said. “They don’t get anything done.”

The commission’s shortcomings were made clear last February when historic flooding along the Kankakee River washed out roads, a bridge and caused millions of dollars in damage to public and private property.

A study is underway to identify potential remedies. Gutwein said he wants the new commission in place by July 1 and prepared to act on those recommendations once they’re finalized later this year.

“We’ll never stop the flooding, but we can control it better,” Gutwein said. “We can flood the right spots and so forth, but that’s not what’s happening — it’s going everywhere now.”

Gutwein’s proposal does not address how the revamped commission would pay for flood control improvements.

He said that likely will require a future assessment be imposed on properties served by the commission, similar to the extra property tax charge paid by land owners living near the once flood-prone Little Calumet River in Lake County.

Former state Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, who now serves as the commission’s executive director, said funding will be key to determining whether the new commission is any more effective than the current one.

“If we go from 24 people down to nine people and there’s no resources to do the major work that needs to be done, then it’s just a smaller group of people having coffee,” Pelath said.

State Rep. Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron, who previously represented Porter County on the commission and served as its chairman for two years, said changing the commission will help bring in more federal, state and local dollars for flood mitigation efforts.

“I strongly support the idea of reducing the commission members down to one per county,” Aylesworth said. “It’s a process that needs to happen.”