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State unveils $5 million grants for livestock farmers, small meat plants

Illinois launched a $5 million grant program Thursday to help livestock farmers, and small meat and poultry plants offset COVID-19 business losses. The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) will administer the program funded with federal CARES Act dollars and part of Illinois’ Business Interruption Grants program.

Through Oct. 31, grant applications are only being accepted online at {https://apps.agr.illinois.gov/AGR-CARES/}.

Focusing on agriculture’s importance to Illinois’ economy, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said, “On behalf of all Illinoisans, I want to offer my appreciation to the members of our agricultural community whose hard work has ensured food was available amid the worst pandemic of our lifetimes.”

IDOA will award grants through three programs: swine depopulation, agriculture business interruption, and meat and poultry capacity program. For program details, read the story on page 2.

Individuals may apply for only one of the three programs. Those in Kane, Lake, Will, DuPage and Cook counties aren’t eligible because those counties received direct coronavirus relief allotments.

“I’m proud of the way Illinois’ farmers, small businesses and commodity groups came together to keep the food chain secure,” said Jerry Costello II, acting IDOA director. “These dollars enable farmers’ continuity of operations while providing our small meat and poultry plants the ability to make necessary improvements.”

Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr. added, “We appreciate the collaborative efforts by Director Costello and the Illinois Department of Agriculture staff to coordinate assistance for Illinois livestock producers with the newly announced Business Interruption Grant program.”

IDOA worked with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to mobilize financial assistance through the Business Interruption Grant program.

“We know there has been uncertainty throughout the spring, summer and fall,” said Kristi Jones, IDOA deputy director. “As we embark on harvest, we want to give producers some confidence in this grant package.”

For more information on the business grant program, visit {agr.state.il.us} and email questions to AGR.Grants@illinois.gov.

Illinois River lock and dam project enters homestretch

It appears grain and other products could be flowing on the Illinois River again by the end of the month.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ major project to perform much-needed upgrades on five locks and dams on the Illinois River entered the homestretch recently and remains on schedule, according to Mike Walsh, chief of locks and dams on the Illinois Waterway for the Corps of Engineers Rock Island District.

In fact, the reopening phase began Sept. 30 as the Peoria Lock and Dam returned to operation that day. Elsewhere, a key site downriver, LaGrange Lock and Dam at Versailles, could open by Oct. 13. The Dresden Island project remains 10 to 14 days ahead of schedule, and facilities at Marseilles and Starved Rock are on schedule to open by month’s end.

The river previously closed to navigation in July for the project.

“We’re in the homestretch,” Walsh said while inspecting the facilities at LaGrange. “We’re all real antsy to get back in operation. We’ve already got boats at LaGrange waiting to lock through once it opens.”

LaGrange is a key site as it sits downriver, and therefore handles the most tonnage of the five locks and dams. It also absorbs some of the most extensive flood issues and subsequently was in the worst shape after losing as much as 20-foot sections of its lock chamber walls to decay.

“This lock is the biggest of the project. It’s getting a major rehabilitation,” Walsh said while standing on one of the new lock chamber walls at LaGrange. “Everything here is going to be brand new and as close to a new lock as you can get without building a new one.”

More than 200 workers continue to labor around the clock at LaGrange to install all new machinery, concrete, lock chamber walls, gate anchorages, utilities, control systems and new technical advancements to operate the miter gates.

The lower miter gates were installed last month at LaGrange and workers began the process of adding water to the chamber to install the upper gates Sept. 30. Six massive cranes were on site as workers continue the dash to the finish.

“When you see the amount of work done to get this accomplished, and what we did in 103 days is pretty remarkable,” Walsh said of the project, which initially experienced a two-week delay. “When you start digging in an 80-year-old structure, some things come up. But we’re right in the 90 to 120-day window (to complete the project) as advertised.”

The keys to pulling off such major repairs at five locks and dams all at once revolved around years of planning and work with industry. Illinois Farm Bureau held a number of meetings at different sites affected by the river closure to help farmers and others prepare for the four-month shutdown.

It then came down to weather during the project, which turned out to be mostly dry and nearly ideal.

“It’s been a pretty good construction season here,” Walsh added. “We’ve got a great team.”