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updated: 8/2/2011 7:35 PM

Chain O' Lakes blight is gardeners' boon

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Nutrient rich sediment that can hinder boating in the Chain O' Lakes will become a boon for community gardeners in two west suburbs.

About 500 cubic yards -- the equivalent of about 50 typical dump truck loads -- dredged from waterways in northern Lake County will be used to create a series of urban gardens in Broadview and Maywood.

The Mud to Community Gardens project, announced this week by officials from several state agencies, is an outgrowth of the Mud to Parks initiative that finds uses for soil dredged from Illinois waterways.

"It's just another way to show that sediment that chokes lakes and rivers can be put to good use," said Stacy Solano, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The Broadview Park District is funding the work through a $135,000 grant for the community gardens from the Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago and the Cook County Department of Public Health. The grant is part of an effort to create a network of urban gardens and community food programs to help local residents.

The material is being provided at no charge by the Fox Waterway Agency, which has stepped up its dredging effort and hopes at some point to be able to make money from what it snares from the lake bottoms.

Most of the material is topsoil that erodes from farm fields and other areas in Wisconsin.

"It's very fertile," said Wayne Blake, the agency's chairman. "We have no industry on the Fox River all the way up that would cause any contaminants. That's why our soil is so clean."

Some of it already has been put to use in Antioch's new community garden, he said.

What to do with the material is an issue for the agency, which has been spending about $200,000 or more each year to empty its holding facility on Ackerman Island near Fox Lake.

But with the help of a $350,000 grant from the IDNR's Mud to Parks program, it has been building two huge earthen holding pens to greatly increase its storage capacity. It also received state approval to sell the material to municipalities, landscapers and other big users for $12 a cubic yard.

"There's not a lot of building right now," Blake said. "There's not a lot of people buying dirt so we're not selling a whole lot."

Wet weather has delayed the construction of the storage cells being built at Cooper Farms between Grass Lake and Lake Marie. The facilities, which could be ready by October, also will include six acres for "dewatering" and sediment recovery and recycling areas.

When complete, the waterway agency will be able to store a combined 130,000 cubic yards of material.

"It's going to make a big difference in our dredging," Blake said.

Blake said the agency slowly is getting ahead by removing about 100,000 cubic yards a year while about 50,000 cubic yards are being deposited.

More dredging will make waterways easier to navigate.

"We hope it makes a difference," Blake said.