Illinois hunting and fishing

In this Journal Star file photo from January 2012, duck decoys are illuminated by a rising sun at Rice Lake. Photo by Jeff Lampe.

Environmentalists say Rice Lake project endangers wildlife

September 09, 2012 at 11:30 PM

BANNER — Despite looming storm clouds and surgery a week earlier, Mayor Ken Fuller wants to protest $19 million of construction now hovering near eagles at Rice Lake.

“It’s unbelievable they’re spending that kind of money,” he said. “There’s a male bald eagle watching the nest now.”

Fuller drives over to check every day, including Friday, when he was joined by fellow protestors John Grigsby and Joyce Blumenshine. They’ve been fighting developments of one sort or another near here for decades, arguing that endangered species are threatened. With backhoes perched a few hundred feet away, it appears their worst fears are coming true.

“They’re moving closer to the eagle nest every day,” said Blumenshine, who has been involved on behalf of the Sierra Club throughout the timeline. “Our concern is this eagle nest is on the very edge of an historic eagle roost.”

But where environmentalists see encroachment, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sees enhancement and counters with a lengthy list of accommodations to such concerns.

“There’s a whole chain of events that leads up to this,” said Marvin Hubbell, regional manager of the Upper Mississippi River Restoration Environmental Management Program.

He says the current project has nothing to do with a strip mine which was proposed, and defeated as unsuitable for environmental reasons, in the 1980s.

If anything, Hubbell thinks environmentalists and the Corps share the same goal here: to improve habitat for wildlife, particularly migrating birds. Working with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Corps plans to spend about $12 million of federal money to reestablish a levee and install a pumping facility which will help control the water levels. The state’s matching portion of $6.8 million uses land credits.

In response to environmental concerns, Hubbell said, the project was tweaked to remove fewer mature trees, move less dirt and adapt to threatened and endangered species. For example, he said, this particular eagle’s nest was thought to have fallen down in 2008. Once project workers found it had been rebuilt and held eaglets, construction stopped last spring, and work was shifted to other parts of the project. Guidelines developed with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service mandate workers stay at least 650 feet away from an active nest; they stayed from 1,300 to 1,400 feet away.

“We basically didn’t do anything while the eagles were on the nest,” Hubbell said.

Once the eaglets fledged, construction resumed. And, Hubbell noted, eagle needs aren’t the only concerns to balance. Fourteen mature trees will be removed. That won’t happen until after Oct. 1 because they may be summer roosts for Indiana bats. But it will happen before November, when eagles seek winter roosts.

“We believe we’re going to be able to safeguard the interest of the eagles by doing this,” Hubbell said.

He said he has met with Blumenshine and Grigsby seven or eight times. Blumenshine said they will meet again Monday at the Corps office in Rock Island. The activists still question the wisdom of a huge dig next to the very wildlife which is supposed to be preserved. If nothing else, they want to ensure the state and feds do their due diligence.

“This is one of our state resources,” Blumenshine said.

Terry Bibo can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 686-3114.