Trump administration considers Illinois rivers project

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CHICAGO (AP) - Seven locks and dams on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers are under consideration by President Donald Trump's administration in his stated push to make the nation's infrastructure "second to none."

Representatives from Illinois and four other Midwest states are working to make sure the river projects, as well as the ecological restoration efforts tied to them, become a priority, the Chicago Tribune reported.

"We need to make sure that we're prepared for (it) if circumstances align; it has a chance to get implemented," said Dru Buntin, executive director of the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association, a group formed by governors to coordinate river-related policies and work with federal agencies.

The Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program was approved by Congress in 2007, but has been shelved due to lack of funding.

The proposal targets five Mississippi River locks on the western edge of Illinois, from near Quincy to northwest of Alton, and two on the Illinois River: one near Peoria and the other near Beardstown. A decade ago, the project had a $4.2 billion price tag.

The plan has the support of many environmental groups, including the Audubon Society, Ducks Unlimited and the Nature Conservancy. But plenty of skeptics say new locks aren't necessary and not worth the public investment.

"Whenever you compromise between the environment and industry that requires infrastructure, like a lock-and-dam system, it's always the environment that's going to lose," said Olivia Dorothy, associate director of Mississippi River management at American Rivers, an advocacy group.

The dams and locks are along 1,200 miles of the Upper Mississippi, from Cairo, Illinois, to St. Paul, Minnesota, and the Illinois River, from near Alton to Chicago. They allow barges and boats to descend or climb through a network of steps so they can travel the length of the inland waterway system.

The rivers connect the Great Lake, as well as Midwest farms and cities, to the Gulf of Mexico, serving as a freight pathway for cement, chemicals, coal, concrete, corn, machinery, oil, steel products and soybeans.

The Army Corps of Engineers maintains and operates the lock system.


Information from: Chicago Tribune,