JOLIET – Ten years after the Collins Street Task Force was formed to find new uses for the shuttered Joliet prison made famous by “The Blues Brothers” movie, it’s likely the prison – and land to the east – will remain undeveloped for some time.
The sites remain in limbo after the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency found dangerous contaminants in the soil and groundwater in the area earlier this year, triggering state and local officials interested in the property to take a step back and figure out how to pay for site remediation.
Perhaps an equally important question is who will pay, said Marcy DeMauro, executive director for the Forest Preserve District of Will County, one of leading local agencies involved with the redevelopment plans.
“In terms of where the dollars come from, I think that’s the big question,” DeMauro said
The site to the east of the prison has been targeted for a mix of recreational uses, such as organized sports, hiking and fishing, while the city of Joliet wants to eventually reopen the prison campus – which closed in 2002 and has since stood empty with shattered windows and crumbling drywall – for walking tours.
Yet both sites are owned by the state, complicating matters even more.
State Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, said Gov. Bruce Rauner is in favor of legislative transfer of the property to a willing owner for $10.
But finding someone to take ownership – and all the costs associated with site remediation – is the hard part, McGuire said.
“Part of me says that it should be the state’s responsibility to clean up the property. After all, it became despoiled while in the hands of the state. And I would be cautious of transferring the liability to units of local government," McGuire said.
The lack of movement on the project was discussed Monday night at the Joliet Park District Board’s meeting. The board is one of parties involved with the redevelopment plans.
Park district Executive Director Dominic Egizio told the board he believes the contamination needs to be addressed before the park district has “anything to do” with the project.
“The state wants someone to take this over so they can wash their hands of this,” Egizio told the board. “And we’re in no position to even consider that.”
The IEPA has recommended that the sites be cleaned up by enrolling in the agency’s Site Remediation Program, according to recent site studies by the IEPA.
But Kim Biggs, spokeswoman for the agency, said there are outstanding issues with the sites entering into the program.
“One question being which entity will take the lead for the project,” Biggs wrote in an email. “The property owner/responsible party would likely be lead for the project and assume financial responsibility. Until those issues are resolved, I do not expect the property to enter the program.”
McGuire said the Collins Street Task Force is exploring ways to pay for site remediation. In the meantime, environmental specialists are taking a closer look at IEPA’s findings and how they affect site plans.
*This article was changed to correct a quote from Sen. Pat McGuire, which should have read: “Part of me says that it should be the state’s responsibility to clean up the property. After all, it became despoiled while in the hands of the state. And I would be cautious of transferring the liability to units of local government."