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Federal Lawsuit Filed to Force Dynegy to Clean Up Toxic Pollution of Vermilion River

Federal Lawsuit Filed to Force Dynegy to Clean Up Toxic Pollution of Vermilion River
Recent Video Documents Continued Coal Ash Contamination of Illinois’ Only National Scenic River

Contact: Jenny Cassel, Earthjustice, jcassel@earthjustice.org or 215.717.4525
Andrew Rehn, Prairie Rivers Network, arehn@prairierivers.org or 217.344.2371 x 208

May 30, 2018 (Urbana, Illinois) — Prairie Rivers Network, represented by Earthjustice, today filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois to force Dynegy to clean up toxic coal ash dumps that are leaching harmful pollution into the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River, Illinois’ only National Scenic River. Newly-released videodocuments the pollution at issue in the lawsuit, which argues that Dynegy is violating the Clean Water Act. The pollution has tainted the river with visible orange, purple, and rust-colored toxic residue.

“Dynegy left a toxic mess on the banks of one of Illinois’ most beautiful rivers, and has done nothing to stop the dangerous, illegal pollution from fouling waters enjoyed by countless families who kayak, tube, canoe, and even swim in the river. Dynegy has left us no choice but to sue,” said Earthjustice attorney Jenny Cassel, who represents Prairie Rivers Network.

The pollution is leaching from coal ash generated at Dynegy’s now retired coal-fired power plant, the Vermilion Power Station. For decades, the ash left over from burning coal at the plant was dumped irresponsibly into unlined ponds that together run approximately a half-mile along the river. Coal ash contains a slew of dangerous pollutants that are linked to cancer, heart disease, and strokes, as well as lifelong brain damage for children. Sampling from the river found a “toxic soup” including arsenic, barium, boron, chromium, iron, lead, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, and sulfate. Concentrations of boron and sulfate – primary indicators of coal ash contamination – were repeatedly found in groundwater at the site above levels deemed safe by Illinois and U.S. EPA.

“We have a rare jewel in our midst. My brothers and I learned how to swim in that river and spent countless hours exploring it. Over the years, my wife and I have introduced our children, grandchildren, and extended family to the river to enjoy the beauty, peace, and excitement of being outdoors. We must work together to see that this coal ash problem is solved safely,” said local resident Mike Camp from nearby Collison, who grew up along the river and in sixty-four years has never lived more than two miles away from it.

American Rivers recently named the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River one of the ten most endangered rivers in the United States due to the coal ash contamination. The Vermilion County Board has twice unanimously passed resolutions asking Dynegy to clean up the mess.

The river and its banks are popular for kayaking, other boating, tubing and hiking, with thousands of visitors each year. The Middle Fork runs through Kickapoo State Park, which gets over one million visitors each year.

“As you travel along the river, one minute you are enjoying spectacular natural beauty and the next you’re looking at unsightly chemicals leaching into the water. It’s jarring. It’s bad for the local community and the wildlife—including several endangered species—associated with the river. Dynegy is jeopardizing the local jobs and the economy that depend on visitors who value the river for recreation. No one wants to swim or boat in toxic soup. Dynegy should use some of the money they made when they ran the plant to clean it up. They’re the ones who chose not to safely dispose of the coal ash,” said Rob Kanter, a naturalist and writer who serves on the Board of Prairie Rivers Network.

Meanwhile, Scott Pruitt is proposing to gut the protections for coal ash pollution nationwide, even as evidence mounts that coal ash dumps such as those at the closed Vermilion power plant are leaching dangerous chemicals into rivers, lakes, and groundwater. Even absent strong federal protections for legacy coal ash sites, however, Dynegy still must comply with environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act.

According to today’s lawsuit filed by Prairie Rivers Network, Dynegy has been discharging without a proper permit and in violation of Illinois environmental and health standards for years. Prairie Rivers Network will ask the court to order Dynegy to “take all actions necessary” to stop the illegal pollution that is being discharged to the Middle Fork, and to pay penalties to the United States Treasury of up to $53,484 per day for each day over the last five years that Dynegy has violated the Clean Water Act.

The Middle Fork and its surrounding area host twenty threatened or endangered species, fifty-seven types of fish, forty-six different mammal species, and two hundred seventy different bird species. The river is home to state-endangered Blue Breast Darter and several species of rare, threatened, and endangered mussels. The American bald eagle, river otter, and wild turkey have returned to the area, sharing their habitat with mink, turtles, Great Blue Heron and other species.


Sangamon River Alliance

By Scott Hays

Last November, several groups and organizations came together with a common interest in the Sangamon River. Over 240 miles in length, the Sangamon courses through several towns including Mahomet, Monticello, Decatur (where a dam on the Sangamon forms Lake Decatur), Springfield, the historic town of Lincoln’s New Salem, and Petersburg before joining the Illinois River at Beardstown. On that day, people from organizations spanning these towns were there.

The initial goal was to meet, talk, network and explore shared interests and opportunities. And out of this meeting, a new organization was formed that we feel could be a model for river stewardship across Illinois and indeed, everywhere: the Sangamon River Alliance (SRA).

Our current draft mission statement explains that this group will be “dedicated to the stewardship of the Sangamon River watershed” and will “promote watershed conservation, education, and recreation.” “Working together, members of the Sangamon River Alliance will amplify the voice and good work of all of the organizations committed to the well-being of the Sangamon River watershed.”

For a river group within the state of Illinois, the SRA is comprised of an impressive diversity of interests and organizations, including: the Friends of the Sangamon Valley, the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy, Heart of the Sangamon Partnership, Lincoln Heritage Water Trail Association, Friends of Lincoln Trail Homestead State Park, Macon County Master Naturalists, Menard County Trails and Greenways, Macon County Soil and Water Conservation District, City of Decatur Water Production, the Agricultural Watershed Institute, the Village of Mahomet, the Illinois Audubon Society, the American Canoe Association, Sierra Club, Prairie Rivers Network, the Illinois Paddling Council, the Illinois State Museum, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and Massie and Massie Associates,  which has helped with rivertrail plan development.

Not merely a paddling group or even a river group, the SRA seeks to take in the entire Sangamon watershed as the territory it covers, including the river, its tributaries and the surrounding landscape. In addition, we welcome expanded membership from any and all other groups, organizations, and agencies that are active throughout our watershed.

Again, quoting from our draft vision statement: “The Sangamon River Alliance creates a network for sharing and broadcasting information about the efforts of every organization that promotes conservation, and encourages educational and recreational opportunities throughout the Sangamon River watershed.”

For now, the group seeks to serve as a forum for coordinating the varied activities among the member groups. Currently there are no plans for the SRA to have a budget, a board of officers, although we are creating our website, which we hope will act as a ‘one-stop shopping’ site for any and all information about happenings, information, events, and stories for everything Sangamon River. Soon, we hope to hold a ‘Sangamon River Fair’ where all of our member groups can come out and meet the public, and visitors can learn more about the Sangamon watershed.

We hope that you will take an interest in our group and in our river in our part of the state. Come visit us and check out our website at sangamonriveralliance.org.

We’d like to leave everyone with this thought from our SRA draft vision statement: “We have an extraordinary capacity to document and analyze ecosystem threats and to conserve and restore habitats, and most importantly, we have a profound responsibility to ensure the vitality of nature for future generations.”

River Stewardship Volunteers 2016 Annual Summary

By Paul Klonowski

Photo: Rob Ratz

In 2016, the Lake County Forest Preserve District’s Des Plaines River Stewardship Crew held somewhere in excess of 75 training and work days, involving 30 active regular volunteers (5 are new for 2016), and 53 “one-timers,” including people from two corporate groups, a paddlesports club, a Boy Scout’s Eagle Scout Project, and one volunteer we borrowed from McHenry County Conservation District’s Education Volunteer corps. The combined efforts resulted in the collection and removal of an estimated 6,170lbs of trash from the river and its flood plains this year, including one of our biggest single-day trash hauls ever, estimated at 1,400lbs of trash!  All told, we logged 1,382 hours of volunteer time, which is another record year for us!

Trash items of interest include: a wading pool, a large tradesman’s style truck rack, two wood duck houses, a truck bumper & body panels, a length of chain link fence, a hypodermic syringe (with no needle), an unused condom (still in its package), an Adirondack chair, the trunk lid from an old car, a live fish on an abandoned troll line (we released the fish), most of a Big Wheel Tricycle, a sign post, two empty moonshine jugs, a large road sign, a Stop sign, a 30-gallon oil tank, a broken blue sink (which matched the blue toilet taken out a few years back), a broken green toilet, a trash can (it was handy), a “lunch litter” site behind Liberty Auto City, bones from what we think was a horse, parts of a blue pickup truck, a hub cap from a De Soto automobile, a couch, the remains of a cardboard boat, an inflatable raft, a fresh bag of groceries, two pallets, more truck parts, a large picnic cooler bucket, a pile of slate shingles, an unusable wheelbarrow, a small roll of carpet, a 55-gallon trash barrel, three or four deck chairs, a 1,000-gallon fuel tank, a 12-foot section of culvert, two dead chickens, and 23 coconuts.

In addition, we collected 52 tires of various sizes, and cut through or did some maintenance trimming on 41 log jams. We also identified one old dump site that will require Operations to clean up: it contains at least 20 truck tires and several large truck parts, half-buried in the banks of Half Day Pits, in Lincolnshire.  On December 30th, we found an old dump site that we’ll clean up after the ground thaws.

We spent one of our scheduled work days at Greenbelt Forest Preserve, planting shrubs and small trees, after learning that extra help was needed for that effort.

But the crown jewel for the year was the final removal of the remains of the 1948 Chevy pickup truck, near our tool shed.   Eighteen Boy Scouts & Scouters can move a lot of heavy stuff, very quickly…

Not a bad year, I think! And 2017 is off to a grand start, with ten (10) new volunteers lined up for this year, so far!


Photo: Rob Ratz
Photo: Rob Ratz

Congratulations To The Friends Of The Pecatonica Foundation

For Winning the American Canoe Association’s Green Paddle for Waterway Conservation Award

green paddle

There once was a creek in Freeport

Yellow was its name

And paddlers needed to report

When launching a canoe in the same

A written permit was needed

To put in a river just knee deep

So for help they came asking

And dozens of letters were tasking

The City Officials for permits

When one of them finally said “That’s it –

no more written requests to go paddling.”

And even a launch site was opened.

Which was more than the paddlers had hopened!  (it had to rhyme)

And the rest is history!

This was the beginning of the involvement of Joe Ginger, Lee Butler, Roger Schamberger, and the many friends who eventually formed www.paddlethepec.com  and the Friends of the Pecatonica Foundation (http://pecriver.org/) to help restore, appreciate and celebrate, a nearby river – the Pecatonica.

Their efforts over the past decade are deservedly recognized by the American Canoe Association with their Green Paddle for Waterway Conservation Award.


Check out the Friendliest Paddle in Illinois here, and join the Friends on one of the many trips they offer.
























A Call To The IEPA

By Don Mueggenborg

For several days now, besides the seaweed in the river, there were globs of something floating in the river.

I have called the IEPA about possible pollution before – time to call again.

I paddled on a Tuesday and saws the stuff – whatever it was.

Wednesday I called the Des Plaines office of the Illinois EPA. After a bit of a discussion, I was switched to a field officer (or whatever the title).

Me: “There is stuff floating in the river, it might be raw sewage.”

EPA: “Is it green or brown?”

Me: “Ahh – brownish-green or greenish-brown.  Anyway – I paddle the river frequently and this is something different.   It might be sewage.”

EPA: Where are you paddling?  We will try to get out there to see what it is

I gave him directions, just above the first bridge north of the river – turn right – well, left if you are coming from the north, right if from the south. Wind your way to Madison Street, but it is not marked – go toward the river past the treatment plant.

THURSDAY – the river is as clear as I have ever seen it.

Call the IEPA back – they are not going to find anything today.

Me: “I’m the guy that called yesterday about the pollution on the Des Plaines.”

EPA: We haven’t –“

I cut him off –

Me: “You guys really act fast.  What a great job.  I called one day and the next day the river is clear.  Great Job!”

EPA: We haven’t got there yet.  Probably the heavy rain and cooler weather today.  With hot dry summers, the algae tend to grow.  Treatment plants also add phosphorous.  We will check it out.

By the way – I can’t seem to find the place you mentioned. Wind around where?”

I gave him better directions – turn East at the stoplight on Bluff Road – by a gas station – dead-ends into Madison St, turn right to the river.


Call the IEPA if you think the river is being polluted. In my experience, they really do respond.

The photos are of places on the lower Des Plaines.

Des Plaines River Des Plaines River

June 4 on the Little Calumet River

Celebrate the Little Calumet River with recreation and environment activities and learn about the history and ecology of the Little Cal!

Clean up tools, breakfast snacks and lunch will be provided.

This year we will begin at Kickapoo Woods in Riverdale. Advanced paddlers and those with their own boats are asked to bring them. Those needing a loaner boat and inexperienced paddlers are also invited to attend. There is no charge for this event, but all participants must register in advance, indicating whether or not you are bringing their own boat during registration.

Tentative Schedule

River Clean Up.  9:00am – 12:30pm.  Two teams–one launching upstream, another downstream–for on-water clean up. Return to launch ramp in time for lunch.

Introduction to Canoeing. 9:00am instruction, 9:30-10:30am paddle; 11:00am instruction, 11:30-12:30pm paddle; 1:00pm instruction, 1:30-2:30pm paddle.

Introduction to Kayaking. 9:00am instruction, 9:30-10:30am paddle; 11:00am instruction, 11:30-12:30pm paddle; 1:00pm instruction, 1:30-2:30pm paddle.

Wrap up & Clean. 2:30pm

Sign up now by clicking Register!

Lake Michigan Water Trail: Next Step for IPC

By Laurie Morse (IPC Member and Lake Michigan Water Trail project advocate)lmich water trail

The Lake Michigan Water Trail – a paddling route around the shorelines of all four states of this wonderful Great Lake – has been in development for at least a half-dozen years. You may have heard about it, and wondered where we are in the effort. The vision — an official, cohesive water trail continuous around the entire lake, with access and exit points every five miles, with camping along some shores, world-class scenery and off-trail amenities – is majestic and inspiring.

The foundation for achieving this vision was laid in June, 2011, when the US Department of Interior designated the Lake Michigan shoreline from New Buffalo Michigan, across the entire Indiana coast, and the complete City of Chicago lakefront as a National Recreational Trail (NRT). The powerhouse behind this 75-miles of trail designation was the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association (NWIPA). NWIPA leadership solicited letters of support for the trail designation, negotiated with Indiana landowners and the Chicago Park District, and jumped the hurdles required to get this first portion of the trail approved.

It was a big job, but their work will make our job – getting national recreational trail designation extended up the Illinois coast to Wisconsin, and beyond – easier. The Illinois Paddling Council recently learned that to extend the Lake Michigan trail the 40 miles from Leone Beach in Chicago north through Illinois Beach State Park will not require a separate application for trail designation. We can piggy back on the work done by the Indiana paddlers. What’s needed? Local enthusiasm by paddler groups and other stakeholders. This means letters of support from the local landowners (read: lakeside Park Districts) saying they support extension of the trail designation, and from IPC paddlers and friends.

Once the Illinois and Indiana NRTs are established, the IPC and NWIPA can lead the application for National Water Trail designation for the full circle, 4-state Lake Michigan shoreline. And while we are working on completing the trail on the Illinois shore, Michigan paddlers will be doing the same on the east coast of the Lake.

What is a National Recreational Trail? These trails are designated by the US Secretary of Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture as exemplary trails of local and regional significance. The National Recreation Trails Program supports designated trails with an array of benefits, including promotion, technical assistance, networking, and access to funding. The aim is to promote the use and care of existing trails and stimulate the development of new trails.

These goals match the IPC’s top priorities – to develop water trails and improve access to Illinois Waterways. That’s what we do, and that’s why this project is important to us. The IPC has been instrumental in seeking National Water Trail designation for the Kankakee River, and has supported public access and trail development on rivers throughout northeast Illinois. Now it’s time to add Lake Michigan to this network of water trails.

The Lake Michigan NRT extension on the Illinois shore will provide communities with all that water trails often bring: social and economic opportunities; recreational and health benefits, and opportunities for stewardship, both on the Lake and on the shore. The remaining 40 miles of Illinois Shore is made up of five suburban communities in Cook County (Evanston, Wilmette, Kenilworth, Winnetka, and Glencoe) and nine coastal towns in Lake County (Highland Park, Highwood/Ft. Sheridan, Lake Forest, Lake Bluff, North Chicago, Waukegan, Zion and Winthrop Harbor). The coastal terrain is sandy dunes, which transition to ravines and bluffs, through the industrial shores and working harbor at Waukegan, ending at the sandy shores and campgrounds at Illinois Beach State Park. Working with 14 or more landowners can be complicated, but so far, local governments have been excited about this project. In fact, the IPC, partnering with the Illinois Shore Committee for the Lake Michigan Trail Network, has already had these successes:

  1. Safety: The Illinois Lake Michigan coast, while the most populated of the Great Lakes, did not have a real-time, near shore weather data buoy. Maritime forecasts had to depend on in-lake data from buoys in Milwaukee and Indiana. With the support of our Illinois Shore Committee, Purdue University was able to fund and deploy a near shore weather buoy off Winnetka last summer. The buoy comes back on-line for the summer this month.
  1. Access: The 14 coastal communities on the North Shore have varying levels of public access. Wealthier communities offer many beachfront amenities, for a price. But in Lake County, there are beaches closed for lack of resources or because of contamination. The Illinois Shore Committee is advocating for the re-opening of Foss Park Beach in North Chicago, and partnered with the Waukegan Port District to place a new, free canoe launch – with parking – in Waukegan Harbor. The Harbor, long contaminated by toxins, has been cleaned up, is now safe for human contact, and paddling is newly encouraged.
  1. Special needs: The Waukegan Port District, with funding partners, will install a handicap-accessible canoe and kayak launch at the new canoe landing in Waukegan Harbor. This will be the first assisted launch on the Illinois shore of Lake Michigan.

Next steps for Lake Michigan trail progress in Illinois include an interactive, crowd-sourced map of the proposed trail extension, where paddlers can share their experiences as they tour this part of the coastline, and an extensive letter-of-support campaign.


Friends of the Pecatonica River Foundation History: An Abbreviated Version

By Roger Schamberger

Most Friendly Paddle in the State of Illinois

The Friends of the Pecatonica River Foundation (FPRF) was organized November 13, 2008, as a 501[c]3 not-for-profit organization through the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois. In early 2006, several like-minded individuals worked on the very first landing on Cedarville Road, which is now known as McNeil’s Damascus Landing. This 1.4 acre parcel was purchased for $20,000. The next landing started with the acquisition of 20.74 acres for $10.00 from Stephenson County. This was in May of 2008. It is known as McConnell’s “Bobtown” Landing. Tom Lindblade paddled this 7.9-mile stretch of the Pecatonica River and referred to it as the “Most Friendly Paddle in the State of Illinois.” The next acquisition was 5.35 acres on Farwell Bridge Road, as a donation, on December 30, 2009. This landing is located in eastern Stephenson County and is nearly 70% complete. All landings are publicly owned. The FPRF has a development/management agreement with Stephenson County.

The FPRF is continually working to improve the quality of the Pecatonica River in Stephenson County. The Stephenson County Board recognized the Pecatonica River as a “Blue Trail” in March of 2006. The National Park Service provided a Master Plan Grant to the FPRF for 58 miles of river development in 2010. The Governor’s Hometown Award [GHA], recognizing McNeil’s Damascus Landing, was awarded to the FPRF on October 26, 2011. The Illinois House of Representatives designated the Pecatonica River as a Water Trail in Illinois on February 23, 2012, by way of a resolution written by the FPRF. The National Park Service – Department of the Interior – recognized Atten’s Landing as part of their Rivers and Trails Program. This was the only project in Illinois. We are making great progress.

Our current project is Atten’s Landing. Atten’s Landing was donated for public use by Chuck & Marion Atten. This 5.35 acre parcel is located on the eastern edge of Stephenson County and is our fourth landing on the Pecatonica River. We have four more to go. This project is being developed as a “Wetland” and will have canoe-kayak launch, small motor boat access, and more. The FPRF has moved about 13,800 cubic yards of dirt, built the entry drive and parking area base (elevated about 5’ above existing elevation), buried 675’ of underground electric, installed poles, ADA fishing piers, concrete picnic tables, concrete pads, benches, removed 45+ stumps, and now has 22 new “wetland” trees – donated by The Bruce Company of Verona – planted. All material and labor have been donated to this project. The FPRF survives entirely on donations. There are many kind individuals who recognize what we are doing and why we are doing it. We are extremely grateful for all the support that helps us create facilities that will be enjoyed for many generations.

The FPRF has been very fortunate to have had several pieces of equipment donated to us. We have a 1983 International tandem dump truck, 1994 GMC/White Semi Tractor, a double drop semi-trailer, a 966B CAT endloader (38,798 pound unit), a 960B John Deere excavator (39,543 pound unit), a Ford L9000 truck, and a huge military four-wheel drive dump truck.


We are 100% committed to the Pecatonica River.

The Pecatonica River in Stephenson County has had a significant increase in use in the last seven years. The FPRF is working hard to develop access, promote events, reduce flooding, improve wildlife habitat, increase educational awareness, and provide continued clean-ups. The FPRF has adopted all 58 miles of the river in Stephenson County as our responsibility.

This weekend, the FPRF is finishing the clearing and clean-up of Hancock Marina (named by Lee Butler). Nearly 100 trees, noxious weeds, bushes, and decades of garbage will have been cleared to improve a neglected area in Freeport. It will make a good fishing area, and hopefully, safer parking lot.

Beware The Fishhook!

By Don Mueggenborgfish hook

It was an early spring day – sun shining, water up a little.

Time to get the rust off, get out on the river. In this case, it was the lower DesPlaines.

We launched at our favorite spot in Lemont and headed upstream. Peanut Butter Andersen in the stern.

When we paddled together, we took turns paddling bow or stern. That way we were more aware of what the other paddler has to do. And the stern paddler doesn’t have to be reminded to call the “hut” because next time he will be in the bow.

About twenty minutes into the trip, we decided to go up Hennebry Creek. A narrow creek that winds from the RR tracks to the river – actually – in the right conditions, we might paddle into the Waterfall Glenn Forest Preserve (never have found the right conditions though).

Saw some beaver signs, birds, and a deer. Great to be out!

Time to head back home.

As we approached the river, we swung under a branch. Fortunately, we were not going very fast.

I felt it – like a sting on the ear. “Dave, I think I know what a fish feels like when he is caught. I think I have a fishhook in my ear.”

Who knows how long that line and hook were dangling from the branch. I guess I was lucky it had been a long time. The line broke without tearing my ear and without pulling me into the water.

Now, we picked up racing speed – to the truck and to the doctor’s office.

“Nurse,” the doctor whispered, “get the pliers out of the janitor’s closet.”

A couple stitches, a tetanus shot. I was free to go.

I was lucky. It could have been an eye. Beware, especially in the spring. Fishermen don’t really want to snag trees and catch paddlers – but it can happen.

A Jewel on the south side has finally been discovered

By Michael Taylor

No motor boats, no barges, and deep enough not to scratch the bottom of your boat.  Finally the secret of a beautiful flowing river in the southern suburbs of Chicago has been rediscovered.  In the fall of 2015, the Cook County Forest Preserve opened a new boat ramp along the Little Calumet River at the Kickapoo Woods Forest Preserves.  The immediate feedback from paddlers and novice alike was that it is a perfect venue.  Kickapoo Woods offers plenty of parking in a safe, well-lit area for paddlers to enjoy.  Not only does the new launch site offer easy, safe access to the river, but the location along the shallow portion of the Upper Little Calumet River makes it a perfect place for beginner and intermediate paddlers.  Meander is the perfect verb and noun describing the paddling experience on this section of the river.  The river bends and curves, and on most days, the river’s flow is calm enough to offer a gentle riding experience in the great outdoors.

Join the coalition of outdoor enthusiasts and community organizations in not only a river clean up, but an introduction to both canoeing and kayaking on this gem in the southern suburbs. Saturday morning, June 4 2016, is the day of the “Little Calumet River Day at Kickapoo Woods;” please join us on exploring this secret south side treasure.