On his last full day as Ottawa’s mayor, Bob Eschbach beamed during the announcement by State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, of a major financial boost toward a goal dating back to his first days in office 20 years ago.
Monday morning, outside the historic Illinois & Michigan Canal toll collector’s office, Rezin announced a state grant of $100,000 to assist in rewatering of a portion of the 1848 canal in Ottawa.
“i just felt this project was good not only for Ottawa, but also for the surrounding area,” she said.
There was applause from the audience of about two dozen people, which included Ottawa Commissioners Wayne Eichelkraut and Tom Ganiere, Building Official Mike Sutfin and City Engineer Dave Noble, as well as Gary Pike and Jack Novotney, engineers who also have helped with the project.
Rezin is no stranger to the Illinois canal system. She grew up in Geneseo, near the Hennepin Canal. For more than 20 years she has lived in Morris, another town on the I&M Canal.
Before starting her career in the state senate nine years ago, a bicycle ride between Morris and Seneca often was part of her daily routine, she told The Times. Even now, a couple times a year she makes time to bicycle between Morris and Utica, she said.
Rezin said after becoming a senator one of her first visitors was Arnie Bandstra, the head of the nonprofit Ottawa Canal Association, who explained the plan for rewatering a section of the canal. Soon after, Eschbach also approached her, she said.
Eschbach told the crowd Ottawa is rich in canal heritage.
Besides the waterway system itself, the city has the last remaining toll collector’s house as well as the one time largest and longest aqueduct in Illinois.
“At the time it was the eighth wonder of the world, they used to say,” Eschbach said.
The grant is coming from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Rezin said.
The grant will be part of a combination of public and private funds along with in-kind services that are financing the rewatering project, Eschbach said.
More than $200,000 in private donations have been received, led by $25,000 from the First National Bank of Ottawa. Excavation work on the canal bed last summer by Army and Marine reserve units has been valued at $250,000. Part of the city’s funds are from “pillow tax” funds paid by guests at city motels which are earmarked for tourism.
The canal rewatering, Eschbach said, is “a perfect example” of tourism enhancement.
Ottawa Economic Development Director Reed Wilson told The Times the city’s lobbyist, Jeff Torricelli, was responsible in helping identify the grant funds.
Torricelli, in turn, commended Rezin and State Rep. Lance Yednock, D-Ottawa, for their support.
“Lance has been wonderful to work with since taking office,” Torricelli said. “He’ll be instrumental in helping us get the funds out. This is just a good project overall — everybody was on board.”