Paddling News: The beginnings of a partnership

By Tom Lindblade
Illinois Paddling Council President

As written in a previous editorial, a deal to open the Vermilion River (closed because of fear of liability by the local cement plant owner, Buzzi Unicem) has been struck, and we are doing what we can to support what was negotiated.

As requested by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), we have succeeded in asking those who wrote in opposition to the rule enacting the exclusion zone around the cement plant dam to withdraw their comments to decrease the amount of time necessary for the legislature to sign off on the arrangement. Completion of the process will still require several more weeks.

Unfortunately, negotiations to open the Vermilion — conducted for paddlers — ended with an agreement that fails to recognize some of the most basic precautions necessary for safe paddling, such as the need to scout and portage. During the several months of delicate negotiations, paddlers were not consulted. We can only speculate that negotiations would have gone differently if paddlers were involved, but it does seem likely.

I believe if we are not represented when decisions are made about things important to us, bad decisions will be made. That said, we must now do what we can to both open the Vermilion and make it as safe as possible for all paddlers.

We are hopeful that the fact we were invited to a meeting at the DNR is the beginning of a real partnership. The DNR director is a paddler, and it is likely because of Marc Miller that we were invited two weeks ago. During that meeting, I believe there was genuine concern they had gotten it wrong and some willingness to try to get it right.

The DNR and its office of Water Resources do many very good things, and there is much the paddling community could do to help, particularly by providing support in the coming budget battles. But in return, we need to be confident we will at least be at the table when decisions that profoundly affect us are discussed. What our most famous Illinois politician set as a continuing goal more than 150 years ago — a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” — is still as relevant today as it was then.

From the Feb. 1-7, 2012, issue

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