It’s been nearly 38 years since Beardstown has had direct access to the Illinois River. That situation may be changing within the next two years, as an engineering agreement with Hutchison Engineering was approved at last Tuesday’s city council meeting. The Beardstown marina hasn’t been open since around 1982. Silt deposits from the Sangamon and Illinois Rivers make the marina un-navigable for small water craft.
Jim Burke of Hutchison Engineering will help prepare the permit for the second phase of dredging of the Access Channel to the Illinois River, so the project will be “shovel ready” when it comes time to apply for state and federal grants.
The permit process has the ability to move forward after Kelly Cagle of the Beardstown Harbor Committee announced at the council meeting that JBS would be donating $20,000 to pay for the permitting fees to help move the marina project forward. Beardstown Mayor Leslie Harris says that the permits will take their current dredging further out into the mouth of the Sangamon and Illinois Rivers: “Once the permit is in place and once the grants come in from the state, we are shovel ready. We have the permits all lined up, and then, once more money becomes available, then this part of this permit will take us out to the railroad bridge, and that’s what we need is the access to continue. We are currently dredging now up and around the point.”
Harris says that by getting the marina open, she’s helping fulfill a campaign promise she made a few years ago: “This is a community effort, and the people of the community wanted the marina open. That was one of the thing that I said when I ran during the election that I would try my best [to open it.] By establishing our Beardstown Harbor Committee, it has been an awesome committee in helping with that effort. I know that Kelly Cagle and I went to the [Army] Corps of Engineers in Rock Island about the marina. Kelly has talked to numerous groups about our Beardstown marina. The community has talked to us about it, and now we have our meat-packing plant, JBS, who wants to help us because they want recreation opportunities for their employees. There will eventually be fishing, kayaking, and a camping spot down at the marina.”
Harris says that Benton & Associates is currently helping design the campground at the marina site.
Kelly Cagle, who chairs the Beardstown Harbor Committee, says that the marina isn’t just for recreational purposes. Cagle says that by having the marina open at Beardstown, it will help curb a life, health and safety issue for all travelers on the Illinois River: “We are the only big town with a full-time rescue and ambulance squad from Havana to Grafton that doesn’t have river access. Numerous boats pass through here. There are accidents, and there also the tugboats that pass through here. People have heart attacks and people get injured on the boats. They have to use Logsdon’s Tug Service to go over the Sea Wall to try and get people off of barges to get them help. We have 27 trains that go over [the river] on an average day. I’ve talked with Roger Lauder, the [Cass County] ESDA Director, and they have no way to get out to the river to contain a spill. We feel like safety is a huge issue for us, too just besides recreational boating. We need to get our rescue squad a way out there, and our ambulance and paramedics. We need to ensure that we have river access.”
Cagle says if a new bridge is built in Beardstown over the river that accidents are likely to happen and without river access, there’s no way to provide timely help.
Cagle says that the Harbor Committee is continuing to host fundraisers in hopes of speeding along the process. A dice run on the river took place this past weekend to help continue to raise funds for the marina and to help purchase other possible infrastructure along Beardstown’s Illinois River access. The run had 173 participants go through 5 stops from Grape Island to Browning.