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Aroma Park river-dredging project is officially launched

AROMA PARK — The long-awaited and much-needed dredging of the Aroma Park boat launch got an official kickoff by Kankakee County on Tuesday.

County and state officials, as well as a representative from the engineering firm hired to complete the project, spoke at the boat ramp that’s in Kankakee Valley Park District’s Potawatomi Park on Front Street in Aroma Park.

“This is just a start,” said County Board chairman Andy Wheeler as officials fielded questions from the gathering of more than 50 people. “It’s going to go on for 50 years.”

State Sen. Patrick Joyce, D-Essex, said a project of this undertaking has been talked about for decades.

“We’ve had an ongoing issue for 100 years,” he said. “It’s going to take a long time to fix what took a long time to get where we are.”

Sand or silt piles up at various stages along the Kankakee River west of the Indiana state line. The sand buildup at the boat ramp at Potawatomi Park is so thick that boats for emergency and recreational purposes can’t be launched.

With the help of Joyce, who secured $1 million from the state budget to tackle the problem, the county recently announced the dredging project. Christopher Burke Engineering, of Indianapolis, was hired to guide the project.

“It’s the type of projects that we’re going to have to do up and down the river,” Joyce said. “There are going to be a lot of challenges with just where to take the sand. How much it’s going to cost to move to sand? But I’m committed to finding more and more resources for the Kankakee River. It’s such a lifeblood to our county. It’s our lifeblood to three different counties, for farming operations, flooding on individuals homes.

“It’s a resource that is underutilized in my opinion. But to do boardwalks and things along the river, if you have an unhealthy river, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. You have to do both.”

The county is going to remove as much of the sand as it can from the Aroma Park site for the $1 million. The sand will have to be de-watered and then trucked out to another site. The trucking of the sand will be the biggest cost of the project, officials said.

“We’re talking about strategic sediment management,” Wheeler said. “We’re not talking about dredging the whole river. We’re not talking about digging a ditch. ... This is strategic for the health and, really, the use of our residents.”

Scott Pelath, executive director of the Kankakee River Basin and Yellow River Basin Development Commission, spoke on what his Indiana-based commission is doing to try to alleviate the flow of silt in the future after the record flood in 2018.

“The Indiana legislature finally decided to do something substantive and aggressive about the Kankakee River in Indiana,” Pelath said. “We now have a 40-year work plan developed by our friends here from Burke Engineering that was adopted under state statute. And we also have about $3 million a year that’s allocated for decades to come to address our piece of this problem upstream of the state line.”

Pelath said Indiana is aggressively addressing the problem by reconstructing a mile and a half of the Yellow River stream bank that’s emitting sediment that ends up in the Kankakee River.

“It’s not the only source of sediment here in the Kankakee River, but it is a primary one,” he said.

Wheeler is hopeful the dredging project can begin in the spring of 2023 when permits from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are secured and bids for the work are completed.

Burke Engineering’s Ian Hahus, a water resources engineer, said his company will take a symmetry of the launch area as the first step of the process.

“We’ll have a guy out on a boat, measuring the depth of the stream, different cross sections through here, just to figure out how deep is the water and how much sand is there that we have to remove,” he said.

Hahus said his company will be talking to the Aroma Park Fire Department to see how much of an opening they need for safe access for emergencies and possibly for boaters to once again use the dock.

“It’ll be a balance of how much do we need?” he said. “How much can we get for a million dollars? It’s kind of a balancing act. After we get that first piece of how much sand do we have, we can start to answer some of those questions. It’s a little undetermined, but we do have some guideposts that we’ll use along the way.”

Hahus also said through the permitting process it will answer some questions a fisherman had about how the project might affect the aquatic wildlife environment.

“The [state] agencies will have a prescription of what we have to do,” he said.

Kankakee County State's Attorney's Office offering drug test kits

KANKAKEE — Parents of teenagers in Kankakee County can obtain a free drug test kit from the Kankakee County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe announced this week that his office would provide 1,000 drug test kits to parents who suspect their teenager may be using drugs.

The kits are paid for with funds seized from drug dealers.

Up to two kits per parent are distributed anonymously and no information is collected when picking up a kit.

The kits include clear instructions [in both English and Spanish] and a list of resources to which the parent or teen can turn for help.

Depending upon demand for the kits, more will be ordered if necessary. Kits will be available through Dec. 31, 2022.

“Providing these drug-test kits is part of an effort to help families address teenage drug use without the need for law enforcement intervention or criminal consequences,” Rowe said.

“This approach empowers parents, but recognizes that there is no substitute for conversation and remaining active in your child’s life. It’s important to trust, but it is equally important to verify — it could mean the difference between life and death.”

The five-panel at-home kit tests urine for a variety of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, opiates [heroin], methamphetamines and benzodiazepines [psychoactive drugs].

If the test is positive for the presence of drugs, the handout details some suggested next steps that the parent can take, i.e., counseling and treatment.

“If the parents decide to seek law enforcement involvement by identifying the person who sold the drugs to their child, I am sure investigators and prosecutors will be happy to listen; but this is first and foremost about safety and intervention,” Rowe said.

Kankakee County Coroner Bob Gessner is another resource, Rowe said.

Gessner works to educate the public about the dangers of heroin, fentanyl and the overdose epidemic. He often assists those struggling with addiction to obtain treatment. Gessner’s office can be reached at 815-802-7190.

“Thanks to our partnership with local municipalities, police and fire departments, libraries and the Kankakee County Health Department, these drug test kits can be obtained at 10 locations throughout the county.

They will also be distributed in limited supply at upcoming events.

The public should note that in certain circumstances, Illinois law enhances penalties — up to double the maximum prison term — for adults who sell drugs to minors.

For more information, contact State’s Attorney Jim Rowe at 815-936-5825.

Updated COVID-19 booster available in Kankakee County

Editor's note: This story has been updated with new information from the Kankakee County Health Department regarding the Moderna updated booster.

KANKAKEE — The Kankakee County Health Department is now offering updated COVID-19 boosters designed to increase protection against the dominant omicron and BA.5 variants.

“Pfizer arrived this morning,” Kankakee County Health Department administrator John Bevis said Tuesday about the recently-approved boosters.

The department additionally ordered updated Moderna boosters, which were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and authorized for emergency use by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week along with Pfizer’s version, and were delivered on Wednesday. 

These boosters are the first updates to COVID-19 vaccines that have received approval in the U.S.

The “bivalent” boosters have a formula that contains half mRNA components of the SARS-CoV-2 strain of COVID-19 that have been used in vaccines since December 2020, and half a strain common between the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron variations of COVID, according to the CDC.

“These versions are designed specifically to include the omicron and what is the BA.5 variant,” Bevis said.

Updated Pfizer boosters were already being administered at the health department’s walk-in vaccination clinic on Tuesday, according to Bevis.

“We’ve given a few of these Pfizers today,” Bevis said.

The department holds walk-in clinics from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and is offering both Pfizer and Moderna updated boosters. 

Anyone who has previously completed a COVID-19 initial vaccination series, received their latest dose over two months ago and is age 12 or older is eligible for an updated Pfizer booster. Moderna's updated booster has the same requirements except it is only approved for use in adults. 

The updated vaccine is only approved for use as a single-shot booster. Doses of the original Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will continue to be used as shots in a person’s initial series of COVID vaccination, along with the other options available, Novavax and Johnson & Johnson.

An individual can choose from the vaccine options they are eligible for at the health department, according to Bevis.

People who receive bivalent boosters may experience common side effects found in the existing COVID vaccines, according to the CDC.

Iroquois County deputies bust underage drinking party

MILFORD — An anonymous tip to Iroquois County Sheriff’s Police regarding an underage drinking party on Saturday led to several arrests on charges of illegal consumption/possession of alcohol by a minor.

Sheriff’s police said the party was being held at a residence in the 1400 block of East 1000N Road in rural Milford.

Deputies made several traffic stops for Illinois Vehicle Code violations, sheriff’s police said.

In addition to local minors, there were individuals from more than 30 miles away attending the party, according to sheriff’s police.

Sheriff’s police said they are also investigating the scene of an accident that occurred near the party location.

The police said they will continue to strictly enforce the Illinois Vehicle Code and Illinois Criminal Code to control these gatherings.