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State lawmaker secures $7M for Kankakee River

KANKAKEE — It may be hard to believe, but when it comes to the rehabilitation of the Kankakee River, $7 million represents a good start, a mere drop in the bucket.

State Sen. Patrick Joyce, D-Essex, helped the region claim $7 million of state construction money through the Rebuild Illinois program and will dedicate all of those funds to aiding the river in terms of dealing with its vast sedimentation issue which has led to greater issues of flooding.

But while some may believe the money — not likely to be delivered for one to two years — would be best spent to hiring a contractor to dredge the river, Joyce has another idea.

While he agrees the river bed is in need to dredging — a process of removing accumulated sand and sediment which reduces the amount of water the river can hold — Joyce believes the money may be put to better use as a way to help secure federal grants so even more money can be used to restore the region’s top resource.

If the money is simply used to hire a contractor for river dredging, Joyce said it will be spent and within a certain time frame the problem will return. He believes that in addition to dredging, a significant portion of the money should be used to secure other grants as the region’s source of required matching funds. He also thinks the time may have arrived for an existing or a new governmental body to perhaps purchase its own dredging equipment.

“Money can be chewed up fast if its used to hire a contractor. Perhaps it’s time we purchase the equipment to remove the sand,” he said. “An organization can then establish a river maintenance program.”

What organization would oversee this would be something for the community to decide on its own.

There are few disagreements that Kankakee County’s greatest asset is the Kankakee River. It, of course, provides the drinking water here, but also recreation and development opportunities.

It, however, is suffering due to the river bottom being filled with sand.


In the March 17 election, voters within 1 to 2 miles of the river where asked in a referendum if they would support an increase in property taxes to establish a Kankakee River Conservancy District to help care for the river and the flooding issue. By a 54-46 percent vote, the voters said no.

The proposed tax would have generated $450,000 annually. The money would have been largely used to help secure grants.

The funds secured by Joyce could very well do that now.

Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler was “extremely encouraged” to see Joyce follow through on aiding the cause of the river.

“This is not only a good start, but this will help us get in the mix for future federal grants. If you don’t have the matching-grant funds, you aren’t even considered. That just how this works,” Wheeler said. “I was very happy to hear this news. This helps move the ball forward.”

Like Joyce, Wheeler said some type of meeting must be held to determine who and how the money will be managed. Direction will also be needed determine a list and priority of projects.


“Where should the focus be?” Wheeler asked.

Wheeler said a main issue is the river at the Aroma Park boat launch. He said the water has become so shallow due to sand that boats basically cannot get through. He also noted the stretch of the river between Aroma Park and Momence is of great concern. He also point to issues where the Iroquois River and the Kankakee River merge.

Joyce noted that once sand is removed there will be the question of where can the sand be taken. There is no part of the project that will be easy, he said.

“Now the work begins,” Wheeler said.

State Rep. Lindsay Parkhurst, R-Kankakee, praised Joyce.

“I’m so thankful he got this far. This is a great start for us. We will need a lot more money,” she said.

For decades, the river has suffered from excessive sedimentation, resulting in flooding and threatening its future.

“Since I took office [in November 2019 following Toi Hutchinson’s resignation], addressing the issues of the Kankakee River has been one of my top priorities, because I know how important the Kankakee River is to our community,” Joyce said. “Seven million dollars may not solve all its problems, but this funding will help people and industry better enjoy and make use of the river.”

This money and any that can be gained as a result of it will target river bank stabilization, silt removal and flood prevention projects.

“Access to clean, abundant water is vital for economic development and provides great recreation opportunities for families,” Joyce said. “These projects will help ensure the Kankakee River remains a great resource for years to come.”

Rally: Time to end 'blind eye to injustice'

KANKAKEE — Jim Rowe is the Kankakee County State’s Attorney, and he is white. He is also embarrassed, frustrated and more than a little angry.

Rowe expressed those feelings before a crowd of about 650 people at the Tuesday evening Community Rally at the Kankakee County Fairgrounds regarding racism and police abuse.

Rowe’s embarrassment, frustration and anger come by the response of those in the white community who “spew racist ignorance and hate” in the aftermath of the George Floyd arrest and subsequent death at the hands of a Minneapolis, Minn., police officer.

“The response to Black Lives Matter is not All Lives Matter. Let’s be honest. Have all lives really ever mattered in the minds of those who say that?” Rowe asked near the conclusion of the nearly 90-minute rally. “Did all lives matter in our country when slaves were inhumanely transported like livestock in the bottom of ships? Did all lives matter when they were lynched by the thousands at the hands of the KKK? Did all lives matter when they were attacked by dogs as they protested for the equal rights they still don’t share today?

“... Did George Floyd’s life matter when he was murdered in broad daylight, on camera, while those charged with protecting and serving watched?” he asked. “The response to Black Lives Matter is not to say ‘Well, what about black-on-black crime?’ We know the difference, we know the difference between swift and fair justice and when it is not.

“Do not be vocal about the looting, but silent about the murder. ... Do not say you’re afraid of these protests and criticize their peaceful chants, but embrace the protesters of a few weeks ago on the courthouse lawn simply because they were white. ... Shut up and realize that a man was murdered and there is still no justice,” he said. “When you look at the anger and the revolt and the destruction, do not forget the ‘Why?’ This stops only when the world takes the proper steps to fix the matter at hand.”

Demonstration, marches and rallies have been taking place in Kankakee County for the past several days, just as they have been around the country.

Rowe said the issue is really simple. When the public turns a blind eye to injustice and looks the other way, “we end up with this.”

“We end up with a murder in broad daylight on camera while three other police officers watched. Bad cops, bad prosecutors, racists in any profession must be fired and called out and removed from the ranks of the good men and women who protect and serve,” he said.

Several voices took to the podium on the warm, humid evening in south Kankakee.

One of those was State Sen. Patrick Joyce, D-Essex. The lawmaker recalled Dr. Martin Luther King’s words which stated people fail to get along because they fear each other.

“They fear each other because they don’t know each other,” Joyce said recalling King’s words. “They don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”

Two of the voices who addressed the crowd belong to a pair of 18-year-olds. One was Timothy Harris, who helped organize the peaceful marches held the Kankakee-Bradley-Bourbonnais region this weekend. The other belonged to Arriah Battiste.

The Bourbonnais young adults pressed everyone to come together because it is the only way people will survive.

“We are all one,” Battiste said. “We will keep fighting until every person gets justice.”

Harris said he was tired. Tired of what he is seeing unfold within the United States.

He pressed for all young people to step forward and let their voices be heard.

“You have the power to create the world you want to live in so create it. ... I refuse to become comfortable with being mistreated. I refuse to become comfortable with unjust incarceration. I refuse to be comfortable with seeing black people dying at the hands of racist police. I refuse to be quiet. I refuse to be silenced.”

Joyce told the audience he fears for a society which still proudly carries Confederate flags and Nazi symbols pointed at the state’s governor and Chicago’s black mayor.

“We are better than this,” Joyce said. “Dr. King was exactly right: When we don’t know each other and we don’t talk with each other, we fear each other. ... Let’s talk and get to know each other. It’s the only way we can truly come together to overcome hate, ignorance and division.”

Coyote Canyon will not re-open

BRADLEY — The economic effects of the coronavirus have claimed one of Kankakee County’s popular restaurants — Coyote Canyon in Bradley.

Owner and operator Jim Johanek said the nearly three-month government-imposed shutdown and the uncertainty of an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant — without major conceptual changes — in a post-pandemic world led him to this difficult decision.

The restaurant, at 1350 Locke Drive, had been in business in this location for 18 years. Johanek is also the owner/operator of Jimmy Jo’s BBQ in Bourbonnais.

Johanek said he has just entered into negotiations with the parent company of Coyote Canyon to either transfer ownership or enter into a lease agreement to have them operate the location.

“These negotiations are in the beginning stages, and we will keep you posted,” Johanek wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday afternoon. “We appreciate the hard work and dedication of our great Coyote team of employees, and our thoughts and prayers are with each of them at this difficult time.

“... Again we thank you for loyalty over the years. JJ.”

Bradley Mayor Pro Tem Mike Watson said he learned of the restaurant’s fate early Tuesday afternoon.

“Absolutely this COVID thing has consequences,” he said. “We’re certainly hoping corporate takes over the site, but dining in general will take a hit because of this [pandemic],” Watson said. He said buffet restaurants will likely be effected more simply due to the serving style.

“Hopefully some entity will come in. The restaurant has shown that that’s a viable location. I certainly wish them well,” he said.

County Board adopts resolution on reopening businesses

KANKAKEE — The Kankakee County Board will recommend to Gov. J.B. Pritzker that Kankakee County move to the next phase of the state’s reopening plan on June 8.

The board gave final approval of a resolution by a 25-2 vote after a lengthy discussion on the wording of the document, especially whether the board can be held liable. Board members Jim Byrne, Colton Ekhoff, Joe Swanson and Brenda Zuccollo first brought the resolution to the May 12 board meeting in an effort to get county businesses, which have been shut down since March, back up and running.

The resolution, in part, says, “We, the Kankakee County Board, feel as the federal government is enabling the 50 states to institute their own reopen plans, the governor of Illinois enable each of the 102 counties of Illinois to institute their own reopening plan based on his very own plan.”

The resolution recommends Kankakee County move from its current Phase 3 into Phase 4 on June 8, with the only exception of wearing face masks “are strongly recommended rather than required as indicated in the plan.”

Phase 4 of Pritzker’s plan says childcare centers and schools, as well as bars and restaurants can reopen, all with safety guidelines from the Illinois Department of Public Health. Any gatherings of 50 people or fewer are allowed. Travel also resumes.

“This went through five or six amendments in executive committee to get to this final document,” said Vice Chairman Todd Sirois, who also chaired Tuesday’s meeting.

During a 22-minute discussion before vote was taken, board member Robert Ellington-Snipes, a Democrat, vehemently opposed the resolution.

“I don’t want to get into a position where it appears we are contradicting the [governor’s] policy,” Snipes said. “The governor has 11 million people to deal with. We have to deal with about 100,000. I don’t see anything that was done that was overreaching. I think he’s cautious in the process because if he opens too quickly, if an outbreak occurs, the people are going to blame him.

“… I think safeguards are already in place. We’re in the process of reopening. … We’re moving in the right direction. I think the timing is where we might have an issue. To back a resolution that really has no teeth other than to make a statement, I can’t vote for it.”

Sirois, a Republican, said some county businesses are hurting.

“I will remind the members here there are people out there struggling that don’t know if their businesses are going to remain open,” he said. “And to further push this down the road and not put pressure on the governor to open us up, could cause more harm than good.”

Board member Larry Kerskstra, a Democrat, was among those who questioned the liability issue — could the county be held liable if businesses reopened? It was something that was covered in last week’s executive committee meeting.

“I want to make it clear that this document does not say anywhere that we are opening anything,” Board Chairman Andy Wheeler said. “It references the governor’s reopening.”

Zuccollo, a Republican, said businesses have the option not to open if they so desire.

“It’s completely up to the business whether they open or not,” she said. “We’re not demanding that they open.”

Snipes also felt the resolution needed more revisions, asking “What is it that we’re actually doing here other than saying they can do something without approval?”

Snipes and Kerkstra voted against the resolution.

“We are recommending to the governor, and we cannot by law make a business open or close,” Byrne said. “…. We are not telling people what to do. It is not the government’s role, and the governor was elected by the people and it doesn’t give him the right to tell us what to do.”