The Illinois Coastal Management Program has $1 million in grant money to award to programs that will target restoration and conservation priorities for the state's Lake Michigan coast.
“We have taken some time over the last two years to develop this Illinois Lake Michigan plan so it would better guide our efforts and how we spend the money that we have available to us,” Diane Tecic, the program director, said at a public meeting Wednesday in Chicago.
The new Illinois Coastal Management Program, approved in 2012, receives about $2 million of annual funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. EPA for operation costs and distributing grants.
Grants will be awarded to those park districts, municipalities, non-profits and educational organizations that will best serve the desires of the Illinois coastal residents who participated in surveys and the Illinois Lake Michigan Watersheds Wiki page over the past two years.
The Coastal Management Program recently generated a list of top priorities for the three watershed districts along the Illinois Lake Michigan coast.
This list of priorities, as well as consultation with environmental experts, will guide the decisions in grant dispersal in the coming years. The program will aim to provide money to the best projects while also maintaining some distribution to all three of the watersheds.
There are three watershed districts in Illinois and each has its own list of priorities, because needs vary depending on region. The three regions are the Lake County and Northshore area, which stretches as far north as Waukegan, Evanston and Chicago, and southern Calumet.
Because voters in Waukegan were more vocal than any other area along the Illinois coast, the municipality has its own list of priorities, Tecic said. “They swamped everything else with their votes,” she said.
Waukegan priorities include improving beach health, restoring habitants and decreasing the effects of toxic waste and contaminants in the environment.
“There are a lot of commonalities between all of the different watersheds but there are also some distinct differences,” Tecic said. “We were able to identify the highest priorities for those watersheds even though there are those commonalities.”
Common concerns across the three watersheds included restoring wildlife habitats, increasing recreational access to the lakeshore and developing infrastructure to deal with storm water.
For the Northshore, priorities named were an increasing the number of paths among natural areas, increasing access to the lake and promoting diverse recreational opportunities.
The Evanston and Chicago region is the narrowest of all of the Illinois watersheds because infrastructure and canal construction forced the reversal of the Chicago River in the 1900s. Their priorities focused on improving wildlife habitats in urban areas.
Lastly, in the Calumet region, residents want to improve water access to environmental areas that have been dried out from heavy industrialization in that area. They also support brownfield rehabilitation.
Nick Dreher, 30, moved to Illinois about a year ago and has been telecommuting as an hourly consultant to the California Coastal Commission until he can find other employment closer to home. He went to the public meeting at the Thompson Center Wednesday to see how he could get involved with coastal preservation in Illinois.
“The way they are going about really involving the public and business and other stakeholders is proof of the success,” Dreher said of the initiative. “This is just the beginning.”
Jeff Edstrom of Environmental Consulting and Technology, Inc. helped launch the Illinois Lake Michigan Watershed Wiki page. The Wiki page is the program’s outlet for generating discussion and spreading awareness about various coastal protection programs.
“How do you tell the story of what’s going on just around the lake? The stories are different all the way around,” Edstrom said. “People come at different issues from different directions.”
The forum will help continue the conversation about the needs of the Illinois coastal region for years to come, he said. It also creates a place for people to share their stories of the lake and share what they feel is most important to conserve.
“The goal is to try to make it as adaptive a program as possible,” Edstrom said.
Grant applications will be made available online on Nov. 1 and are due Dec. 16. Applications can be found at http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/cmp/Pages/grants.aspx. This year’s grant distribution will be focused on education programs and sustainable planning, Tecic said.
“What we wanted to do was make sure we prioritized our funding in a way that matches the stakeholders [priorities],” Tecic said.
This article was originally published in Medill Reports Chicago