February 20, 2022

Political heavyweights come to Waukegan to tout how President Biden’s infrastructure plan will benefit harbor; ‘This will advance the entire community’

Source: Lake County News-Sun


Eradicating more than a century of contamination of Waukegan Harbor’s water is a 30-year project so far, and the local share of $1 billion from President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure plan for Great Lakes restoration will pay for the rest.

A presidential adviser, a United States senator and four members of the U.S. House of Representatives explained how the restoration funding will help northeastern Lake County, as well as others living along the Great Lakes, Friday at City Hall in Waukegan.

Biden announced plans for spending $1 billion for Great Lakes restoration Thursday and a host of federal officials including Mitch Landrieu, Biden’s senior adviser on infrastructure, came to Waukegan to let more than 50 people at City Hall know how the community will benefit.

“I’m from New Orleans, a place by the water, and I know how important that is,” Landrieu, a former New Orleans mayor, said. “This is the biggest bill of its kind in history. Billions will be spent on water, and it’s coming here to Waukegan today.

Delivering the message along with Landrieu were Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., U.S. Rep Brad Schneider, D-Deerfield, U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville and U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Schaumburg.

Debra Shore, the regional administrator for the United States Environmental Protection Agency based in Chicago, told the gathering precisely how the money from the infrastructure will take Waukegan Harbor off the government’s watch list.

Shore said the industrial pollution of the harbor began more than a century ago. The cleanup effort started approximately 30 years ago, and there is one more watch list remaining — fish health.

“Industries have been dumping intoxicants into the harbor since the late 1800s causing the loss of health and wildlife,” Shore said. “Now it will be (fully) cleaned up by 2030 because of this bill.”

When fish ingest intoxicants, Shore said it becomes unhealthy not just for the fish, but people who eat them. The problem can spread far beyond Waukegan. The fish will now be tested for levels of intoxicants until there are no more signs of unhealthy fish.

Schneider said money to complete the harbor cleanup is overdue and a matter of environmental justice. Underserved communities like Waukegan are often forgotten when the government spends money on projects.

“This will advance the entire community,” Schneider said. “We want to lift up every single person in the community.”

Duckworth said she remembered sitting in a hearing a few years ago after her first daughter was born. She saw people who took a long bus ride from Flint, Michigan, to let lawmakers know the extent of the pollution there. She saw a woman holding a baby bottle like the one she used for her own daughter. She does not want to see something like that in Waukegan.

“She was holding up her hand, and all I could see was the bottle,” Duckworth said. “The water was brown. I was haunted. I could not imagine a baby drinking that water.”

Krishnamoorthi said once the water is better for fishing, it will bring people to the lakefront to catch them as well as beachgoers and others. It will spur growth.

“If more people come to fish, more will come for recreation,” Krishnamoorthi said. “That means more businesses in the town and more jobs.”

Local people at the event like Waukegan Ald. Keith Turner, 6th Ward, could not remember a time when so many highly ranking officials including members of Congress, state government and more came to the city to talk about help for the future.

“This is the first time that I can remember from my years as an alderman, and as a member of this community, where we had so many high-level decision makers discussing solutions for our lakefront’s future,” Turner said in an email.

By:  Steve Sadin