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Rock Falls hits tight grant deadline for Limestone Building cleanup

Word on two EPA cleanup grants expected in February or March

ROCK FALLS – The city has completed the next step in addressing environmental issues at the site of the Limestone Building, which was demolished in July.

Two federal Environmental Protection Agency cleanup grants are being sought to do remediation work. The deadline for the 2018 grant cycle was Nov. 16, giving the city a tight window for completing the applications.

"Both grants for the Limestone cleanup, each for $200,000, have been submitted to the U.S. EPA, and we should know something in February or March," City Administrator Robbin Blackert said at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

The EPA had been testing soil and groundwater throughout the demolition process. The city had been working on the grant applications with Terracon, its environmental consulting firm. While it was hoped cleanup wouldn't be needed, the grants were started a couple of months ago, just in case.

The preliminary results from EPA's tests came back showing elevated levels of VOCs, SVOCs and metals. VOCs are volatile organic compounds, gases that are emitted from solids or liquids, while SVOCs are a less volatile subgroup. They include a variety of chemicals that can impact health, and some are known to cause cancer.

Protective coatings, such as paint, are a major source of VOCs, and city officials suspect paint is possibly to blame.

"It wasn't a big surprise, because there was a paint shop in the building that used lead-based paints," Blackert said.

Naperville-based Terracon was hired by the city to develop a comprehensive community development plan that was completed in 2008. The firm, well known for its brownfields expertise, took a leading role in the city's riverfront assessment and cleanup work at the Parrish-Alford and Reliant Fastener manufacturing sites.

Terracon also has taken the lead on grant-writing efforts that have brought the city about $6 million in assessment and cleanup grants, as well as assistance from the IEPA's Revolving Loan Fund.

A public meeting for the cleanup grant was held at the Nov. 7 council meeting, where Coloma Township Park District Executive Director Mike Sterba spoke about the possible impact of contamination on city parks.

Lower Dam Park, owned by the city, and John W. Bowman Family Park are in the downtown riverfront area.

"These grants are important to the park district, because these parks could be contaminated, and access could be shut down along the riverfront," Sterba said.

Sterba said the lower dam area is the most popular fishing spot in Whiteside County, and he'd hate to see it closed to recreation.

If the city is awarded the grants, it would have to come up with a 20 percent match.

For the third consecutive year, the city has been chosen to participate in the National Brownfields Training Conference, Dec. 4-7 in Pittsburgh. Mayor Bill Wescott and Blackert will be there to represent Rock Falls.

"Because of our continued involvement with the EPA in our cleanup efforts, we have been asked to present again this year and tell the story of the brownfields work we have been doing in Rock Falls," Wescott said.

The trips are taken at no cost to the city because they are funded by EPA brownfields grants.


The Rock Falls City Council next meets at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 5 at City Hall, 603 W. 10th St.

The agendas will be posted at and at City Hall. Call 815-622-1100 for more information.

The council meeting also airs live on Channel 5 in the Sterling-Rock Falls cable market.

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