Proposal to privatize Wildlife Prairie State Park could reach House
Gatehouse News Service
Edwards, Ill. — A proposal to change Wildlife Prairie State Park’s ownership to private hands could come before the Illinois House when it reconvenes for a special session on Aug. 17, state Rep. Mike Unes, R-East Peoria, said Wednesday.
But Unes also said he’s unsure if any other legislative proposals will be considered by the General Assembly aside from pension reform matters and a rare House expulsion vote on state Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, over allegations he accepted a $7,000 bribe.
“I would very much like to see it called,” said Unes, a chief sponsor of HB 3611. The bill would transfer the park from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources oversight to the Friends of Wildlife Prairie Park, a private not-for-profit group that has been operating the park for years.
“I will do everything I can and communicate the importance about it,” Unes added. “It is something I will continue to advocate for as long as we are there ... but we don’t know for sure if anything will get called (for a full House vote).”
Other lawmakers, though, are unsure if the proposal is ready to be called since the status of an appraisal remains unknown. While HB 3611 was endorsed by the Senate last spring, it was held up in the House so the appraisal could be completed.
That process could last until September or even longer. An IDNR spokesperson did not return a call Wednesday for comment, and state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, said lawmakers should not give any false hope that the transfer legislation will be voted on during the special session.
“We have one day we’ll be back (to Springfield),” she said. “If we’re there two to three days, it might have a chance ... is it possible? Sure, anything in legislation is possible. But I don’t suspect it’s plausible yet. There was a lot of legwork that had to be done.”
Gordon-Booth said it’s likely the proposal will get a full House vote during November’s veto session.
Unes said he’s heard no opposition to the transfer, and “I think we could get it done (Aug. 17).”
On Tuesday, while speaking to the local media after Gov. Pat Quinn’s appearance at the Gen. Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport, Unes said the transfer bill was “a home run,” and was something he hoped could get called for a House vote.
Steve Brown, spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, said the bill is under review. He said it’s uncertain what, if any, proposals could come up for consideration on Aug. 17.
While it’s unclear where IDNR is with the appraisal, the state does have an estimate as to the value based on the sale of other land in Peoria County over the past two years. The estimates have the park valued at $6,850 per acre, or about $12 million for the 1,720 acres there.
Transferring the property gained legislative support earlier this year as a way to remove it from IDNR’s budget. The state hasn’t provided Wildlife Prairie State Park any money since 2009. The park instead relies on membership, admissions, donations and grants.