Waukegan Mayor Robert Sabonjian is hopeful that $10 million in federal cash earmarked for continued cleanup of his city's harbor eventually will lead to economic revitalization along Lake Michigan.
Sabonjian was joined by various officials at a news conference Thursday at Waukegan Yacht Club to announced plans for a project involving the use of hydraulics to dredge sediment from the harbor.
Waukegan Harbor is contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs from the former Outboard Marine Corp. OMC at one time was one of Waukegan's largest employers.
Sabonjian said he expects the final harbor cleanup will proceed as planned, although an exact start date is not yet known.
"The psychology of getting all of this (PCBs) out of the harbor is so important," Sabonjian said after Thursday's formal announcement.
He acknowledged it could be difficult to attract development to the lakefront in a down economy, even if the harbor is completely cleaned. He said that's why he wants to start a redevelopment authority exclusively assigned to the task.
Waukegan Harbor was first cleaned in 1991, but a review in 2002 found PCB levels remained high.
Heavy industry has ringed the harbor for generations and sampling 30 years ago showed it was heavily contaminated with PCBs. The harbor was designated a federal Superfund site and put on a list of International Areas of Concern on the Great Lakes by a U.S.-Canadian joint commission.
PCBs accumulate in fish and marine life and have led to fish consumption advisories. The chemicals can be harmful to children and are known to cause cancer in animals. Some contaminated sediment was removed in the 1990s but portions remain. The harbor remains one of the major PCB sources in Lake Michigan.
Doug Scott, director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, said the federal branch will provide the initial $10 million for the latest work on the harbor. He said the project should run three years at a total cost of about $31 million.
Democratic politicians including state Sen. Terry Link of Waukegan attended Thursday's harbor announcement at the yacht club. Link said the work will create jobs.