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Barges used to clear Kankakee River logjams
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Barges used to clear Kankakee River logjams

Logjams are among the biggest problems along the Kankakee River. Now there’s a new way to clear them.

Instead of trying to get a series of access points along the shoreline to remove the fallen logs, a pilot project put an excavator on a barge, then tied another series of barges together to collect the logs.

“I couldn’t be happier about the results in the period of time it was granted,” said Scott Pelath, executive director of the Kankakee River Basin and Yellow River Basin Development Commission.

Pelath gives Porter County Engineer Michael Novotney credit for the innovative thinking.

At a recent Stormwater Management Board meeting, Novotney told board members about it.

“This gives us access to some of those really difficult-to-access points along the river,” Novotney said.

Porter County Board of Commissioners President Jeff Good, R-Center, asked if the same project could be used on tributaries. That’s possible, Novotney said, but it would have to be scaled accordingly for site conditions.

The logs are a problem, especially when the river is high because of flooding. Logs tend to collect at bridges and other man-made structures that cross the river.

“It’s hard on our bridges and our infrastructure,” Porter County Surveyor Kevin Breitzke said. “This has proven to be one of the better ways to handle the timber line along the basin.”

Join Tristan DeFord, Jami Rieck, and Nancy Zakutanksky on a shift working for Superior Ambulance in Merrillville.

The pilot project removed nearly 800 large wood items along the Porter County stretch of the river, Pelath said. “I don’t believe there was a single tree that had to be cut from the bank while this work was done,” he said. This was tree debris in the river.

“Logjam management is a function in all 40 years of our 40-year management plan,” Pelath said. The agency is in its infancy. Porter County is paying $192,000 per year to the agency for unincorporated areas in the Kankakee’s watershed. The annual dues come from the stormwater management fees residents pay.

The barge project was arranged by the Porter County Department of Development and Stormwater Management but funded by Pelath’s agency.

“Obviously we funded it at the commission level, but it takes a team and some out-of-the-box thinkers,” Pelath said. Novotney is Porter County’s representative on the commission.

At the commission’s last meeting, Pelath gave a presentation on the barge work. “People are very enthusiastic about some of the possibilities,” he said.

During late June and early July, heavy rains brought the river to flood conditions. However, waters receded faster than the National Weather Service forecast. While there are a lot of factors involved, Pelath said, “There isn’t any indication of a negative result” of the barge project.

Good asked if the commission is looking at other projects along the river, including boat ramps. Good remembers using his canoe on creeks and ditches when he was growing up, and boating has become popular again.

“I think we can look forward to more recreational use” on the Kankakee and tributaries like Crooked Creek, Breitzke said.

Good suggested having public restrooms and a nicer launch along the Kankakee, perhaps pumping the waste out weekly. “It’s something I’ve always thought we could have done a little better,” he said.

An outfitter to serve the area would be good, too, Good said.

“We’re interested, so keep your eyes open,” he told Novotney.

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