GODFREY – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today awarded $6.8 million to Lewis and Clark Community College to construct the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center (NGRREC) Field Station at Melvin Price Lock and Dam 26 in Alton. The Field Station will enhance Lewis and Clark’s reputation as the nation’s foremost river research institution. It will be the first institution of its kind to offer a comprehensive river system research and education program.
“The National Great Rivers Research and Education Center Field Station will be to river research what the world-renowned Scripps and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institutes are to ocean research. Lewis and Clark’s already excellent river research programs will find a world-class home over the Mississippi River, where they will continue to produce insights into agribusiness and tourism in Illinois, and the environmental and economic impact of rivers to the state, nation and the globe,” Gov. Blagojevich said.
The $6.8 million was included in the Fiscal Year 2007 state budget passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed by Gov. Blagojevich. The Governor announced the funding today at Lewis and Clark’s Godfrey campus with state Senator William R. Haine (D-Alton), state Representatives Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville) and Daniel V. Beiser (D-Alton), and U.S. Congressman Jerry F. Costello (D-Belleville). To date, Congressman Costello has secured more than $3.5 million in federal funds for the project, which have been used for site planning and educational outreach programs.
Construction on the new Field Station is expected to start in Spring 2007, and the facility is expected to open in Spring 2008.
The NGRREC is the product of a unique educational partnership between Lewis and Clark; the University of Illinois (U of I) College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences; the University of Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences; the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Natural History Survey; and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It is also in affiliation with the Nature Conservancy, Illinois Rivers 20-20, Illinois Natural History Survey of Alton, the Great Rivers Land Trust, and the Center for American Archeology. The NGRREC was founded four years ago, and its mission is to promote better understanding and sustainable use of the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois Rivers, their watersheds, and the communities that utilize and depend on them. The research work to be performed at the field station will utilize a holistic approach to explore questions central to maintaining a major river system as a viable environmental, economic and recreational resource.
“Understanding the elements required to sustain a healthy river system is critical for not only environmental health but also for economic health. An upgraded lock and dam network, while also balancing environmental needs along the river system, is important for commodity transport down the rivers to the Gulf of Mexico and on to world markets,” Congressman Costello said.
Lewis and Clark and district communities will benefit directly from the educational and economic impact that the Field Station will bring to the area. Lewis and Clark’s faculty will have the opportunity to work directly with the faculty of the University of Illinois and staff from DNR’s Natural History Survey, thereby enhancing current academic offerings for both Lewis and Clark and U of I. Lewis and Clark students will also benefit from the exposure to emerging career opportunities in river ecology, natural resources management, ecosystems management, watershed management and environmental sciences. District residents will also benefit from a permanent education center attracting scientists and students from throughout the world. The educational research facility will have a permanent economic benefit to the area, as scientists and students will add money to the local economy. The center will help market the region as an outstanding and unique location for the study of ecology and the management of large rivers and floodplains.
“We are located at the confluence of three of the nation’s greatest rivers. These rivers are part of a large, complex system that supports tremendous biodiversity and agricultural productivity. The rivers have played a vital role in the development and growth of the State of Illinois,” said Sen. Haine. “The research performed at the Center will help maintain the viability of the river systems and watersheds. By studying both the environmental and economic impact of the rivers, we will gain a better understanding of how they can provide benefits in the future, while still maintaining an ecological balance.”
The NGRREC will include numerous environmentally-friendly, energy-efficient design elements, including long-wearing bamboo floors and a grass-covered roof. Lewis and Clark will seek a Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for the building, one of the nation’s highest recognitions of projects that incorporate “green” design principles. The new center will be consistent with Gov. Blagojevich’s Green Buildings Initiative, which encourages the use of “green” design elements wherever possible in state-funded construction projects.
“The Center will be LEED certified and will be one of the most environmentally advanced facilities in the state. In addition to providing invaluable research, it will demonstrate how development and environmental concerns can go hand-in-hand,” Rep. Hoffman said.
“The Center will provide invaluable research that will have applications throughout the world, and it will also have an economic impact on this area. Researchers, environmentalists, and educators from the U.S. and other countries will be coming to the Center. The time they spend here will be a plus for our local economy, and their studies will help create an international reputation for the area among researchers,” Rep. Beiser said.
Lewis and Clark President Dale Chapman added the NGRREC is already having an impact as a result of its symposia and internship programs. “NGRREC has hosted or co-sponsored five symposia on rivers, with the most recent being the Cache River Conference in southern Illinois. The meetings have earned an international reputation for NGRREC. The research conducted by the organization’s interns has also resulted in national exposure for the work that is being done.”
Dr. Gary Rolfe, Director of NGRREC, said history has shown the importance of the rivers. “Large rivers are subject to impacts from development and crop production. These changes, in turn, can affect migrating waterfowl, habitat, shore and water birds, fish, riparian forests, swamps and marshes, fresh water, and water recreation activities. Because of their importance, rigorous research and education programs must be strengthened and developed to enhance and protect these rivers. Equally important is advancing our understanding of the social and economic impacts within the watershed in order to enhance the sustainability of all the communities that depend upon their survival,” Rolfe said.
“The Natural History Survey has been conducting research on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers for more than 100 years. However, the Center will be a place where we can do very sophisticated ecological research and provide great training and educational programs for faculty, students and the public,” Dr. David Thomas, Chief of the Illinois Natural History Survey said.