Sand collects at Fisherman's Park

Employees of Aqua Illinois have removed substantial amounts of Kankakee River sand piled up deeper at Fisherman’s Park in Kankakee by the winter floods.

Winter flooding left more Kankakee River sand than ever piled up on shore at Fisherman’s Park, off Kennedy Drive downstream from the Court Street bridge in Kankakee.

Employees of Aqua Illinois water company have been removing the sand, as they have for several years under the supervision of Brian O’Keefe, distribution manager for Aqua America.

“They have done it for several years whenever the sand builds up,” said Dayna Heitz, superintendent of the Kankakee Valley Park District.

The sand, eroded off land along the river and its tributaries primarily in Indiana and to a lesser extent in Illinois, has been a growing problem for decades. It has been carried farther downstream each year, noticeably piling up at Fisherman’s Park for more than a decade and continuing downstream.

“They call it Indiana Shores or Indiana Beach because the sand comes from Indiana,” Heitz said.

“We’ve been pulling it out of there as often as we can,” O’Keefe said of the extensive Fisherman’s Park sand. He sends crews there after they have completed work elsewhere in half a day.

“Rather than have them start on a new project. ... We just try to attack it as much as we have time to do it,” he said. “We do it as a community support thing. The area is highly used and when it gets filled up with sand it is hard for people to use.”

Aqua uses the sand as backfill on projects. “It really probably costs us more than to buy sand” for such uses, he said.

The sand problem “was worse this year than ever,” said Kevin Culver, regional environmental compliance manager for Aqua America.

The water company has been removing sand from Fisherman’s Park for several years, since Culver talked about it with J.R. Black, the late executive director of the Northern Illinois Anglers Association. Black was a founder of NIAA, organized in the late 1970s to combat the long-standing problem of sand eroded from the river basin, primarily from Indiana, but to a lesser extent from eastern Kankakee County.

The eroded sand has filled much of original rocky river bed over the decades since hundreds of thousands of acres of the Grand Kankakee Marsh was drained, primarily in Indiana.

The sand began covering Fisherman’s Park 10 years or more ago and has continued to advance farther downstream.

The heavy sand load also caused substantial problems at the Aqua Illinois river water intakes off Cobb Boulevard, a couple miles upstream from Fisherman’s Park.

Because of the suspended sand,”we had to take half the plant out of service,” Culver said. “Fortunately we had the new clarifiers to depend on,” he said of $13 million in improvements completed recently.