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Photo by Wendy Davis

Eric Ceci answers questions relating to the question of whether Iroquois County should have an Iroquois River Conservancy District.

The question on whether Iroquois County should form a river conservancy district will be on put to voters, and there was a town hall-style meeting Thursday evening to pass along information.

Eric Ceci, Iroquois County Emergency Management Services director, said he’s worked on supporting this on his own personal time, and he spoke last night as a citizen to give information on the ballot question. He said he was there to answer questions, not to campaign for the district.

The question — authorizing the formation of the Iroquois River Conservancy District — will be on the March 17 Primary Election ballot for residents in Middleport, Belmont, Concord, and Iroquois townships, and for residents one mile on either side of the Iroquois River going north from Iroquois Township to the Kankakee County border. Those who live in this area will have the question on their ballot; there’s no special ballot to ask for when voting that day.

He read a portion what the authority and purpose of the act, 70 ILCS 2105, entails: “…prevention of stream pollution development, conservation and protection of water supply, preservation of water levels, control or prevention of floods, reclamation of wet and overflowed lands, development of irrigation, conservation of soil, provision of domestic, industrial or public water supplies, collection and disposal of sewage and other public water supplies, collection and disposal of sewage and other public liquid wastes, provision of forests, wildlife areas, parks and recreational facilities, and to the public health …”

There are 4,951 registered voters within the district. No party needs to be declared to vote on this, he said, as with Primary Elections voters pick a ballot to vote. A non-partisan ballot can be chosen.

Ceci addressed what it would cost for those within the district if it were approved by vote March 17.

Residents within the district would be taxed 0.083 percent of their property’s estimated assessed valuation (EAV). EAV is a third of the market value. If a home’s market value is $60,000, the EAV is $20,000. The cost on the annual tax bill would be $16.60. Farm land would be taxed the same way. It would be taxed 0.083 per the farmland’s EAV.

The estimated revenue from property tax assessment is $93,000. The revenue can not be put into any other taxing body.

“With that being said, all but about 10 square miles in Iroquois County if it rains there it fall into the Iroquois River; but these are the only areas being pursued with the conservancy district,” Ceci said. In the future, more area could be added to the district by referendum.

The idea was to start small and include the people most affected by flooding of the Iroquois River. Concord doesn’t get the impact of flooding like the other areas, but it was added because it’s connected to areas in Indiana.

No organization created this idea forming a conservancy district, he said.

This district was formed as a start, and Sugar Creek area can be looked at in the future, he said.

There’s no “plan” yet created, Ceci said, as it’s up to the board of the conservancy district to create a plan. “That board chooses what they will do.”

There will be five commissioners placed on the district’s board. They are non-paid positions, except for expenses.

Three members would be appointed by the Iroquois County Board and two members would be appointed by the city of Watseka. Any municipality with a population of more than 5,000 that’s wholly within the district appoints two members.

The meetings would be open public meetings.

The board would have the ability to issue bonds if there were projects needing to be completed. Ceci also addressed eminent domain. It’s part of the statute, but there are limitations on how it can be used.

“The reason why I decided to support this on my personal time is that there has been no avenue, no vehicle, in order to handle the prevention of floods in the future. We’ve just been dealing with them every time they come. That is not working. The only way we’re mitigating flooding in Iroquois County is by elevating homes, by demolishing homes, and we’ve seen a significant decrease in population and we’ve seen significant issues to people who have functional access needs.

“This is probably the only avenue that can successfully start to moderately impact flooding. Outside of that the only mitigation method available is attrition.

“By creating of a river conservancy district you can start looking at the river as an asset as opposed to a liability. We have a nice river, a navigable river.” He said the district could also create some recreation.

There is already an Indiana Kankakee and Yellow River Basin Development Commission, and this encompasses from Lake Michigan down to Newton County along the border with Illinois. There’s a proposed Kankakee River Conservancy Expansion for Kankakee County.

There were concerns from the crowd about using this district as a way to try to stop flooding in Watseka.

“This district is not going to stop flooding,” Ceci said. “What we learned tonight from our engineers is that there’s no one solution that will stop flooding. We got too much water, we got too much rain coming our way, and we have too much landmass. There is no big civil engineering project that’s going to solve this. That’s why there’s the idea of small steps.”

With this revenue, he said, there are grant applications through FEMA will allow 25 percent matching funds to gain 75 percent federal funds to boost the funds collected through the district.

This district would be an agency in Iroquois County to help maintain the waterways which haven’t been maintained in many years, he said. “It’s not just the money but it’s also to have an agency authorized to do so.”

It would maintain the river and provide ecological solutions. It would not solve flooding entirely, he said.

The Army Corp of Engineers have the authority to clear log jams, but Ceci said they are limited in funding. This district could also help with log jams.

Rep. Tom Bennett was at the meeting to give his support.

“This is a very important topic,” he said, as local elected officials have spent a lot of time working on this.

“What do you want to do? It’s up to you. You’re the ones voting on this,” Bennett said. This is one of the things being done to help flooding issues.

The water shed is huge, he said, as it takes in nine counties in Indiana and three counties in Illinois.

There’s a lot of changes going on on both sides of the border. Indiana water flows into Illinois; and Illinois officials — noting specifically Iroquois County Board Chairman John Shure and Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler — are stepping up in discussions with Indiana representatives to get work done. There’s a number of moving parts, Bennett said.

This conservancy district can work with the Kankakee conservancy district.

Conservancy districts were started in 1925, and there are about 15 river conservancy districts in Illinois “all for the same kind of reasons, the water with the flooding issues”.

People are tired of flooding but it takes people coming together to help get it figured out. “We all feel the pain but what do we do?”