Rock River - Chicago Central and Pacific Railroad

Winnebago, Whiteside, and Lee Counties

On June 19, 2009, a train derailed near Cherry Valley, IL.  Nineteen cars carrying fuel grade ethanol derailed.  Representatives of Chicago, Central & Pacific Railroad Company (CCP) reported the released material as a mixture of 95-97% ethanol and 3-5% natural gasoline (fuel grade ethanol).  Tens of thousands of gallons of fuel grade ethanol were released onto the surrounding soils and into a nearby unnamed tributary to the Kishwaukee River.​

On June 21, 2009, IDNR Law Enforcement observed dead and dying fish at Grand Detour, Illinois.  IDNR Law Enforcement noted a strong ethanol odor at Oppold Marina, immediately upstream from Sterling, Illinois.  IDNR Fisheries biologists led a fish kill investigation starting the morning of June 22, continuing until June 23, 2009.  IDNR conducted a fish kill count from Grand Detour to Prophetstown, Illinois.  An estimated 54 miles was identified as the fish kill zone.  The biologists estimated a loss of 72,372 fish.

The natural resources likely adversely affected by the release were primarily documented in the form of the IDNR fish kill investigation report:  51% game fish species and 49% non-game speceis.  The greatest impact was to bottom-feeding fish species such as flathead catfish; however, all other aquatic life inhabiting the stream were potentially injured by the release of fuel grade ethanol; the stream ecosystem as a whole, including the unnamed tributary of the Kishwaukee River, the Kishwaukee River and the Rock River had been disrupted.

The Trustees offered CCP the opportunity to integrate the clean-up of the derailment site with natural resource injury assessment activities, simultaneously assessing natural resource injuries and characterizing ecological risks associated with releases from the site.  Through a cooperative assessment approach, natural resource restoration projects were developed to benefit aquatic resources of the Rock River.

In order to promote the goals of the Illinois Fish and Aquatic Life Code and Wildlife Code to conserve, distribute, introduce and restore aquatic life, birds and mammals, the following restoration projects have been or will be implemented:

  • Restoration and enhancement activities at Big Bend State Fish and Wildlife Area to restore oxbow functions to the Rock River and wetlands.  This effort was completed Fall 2015.  More details are available in Attachment A of the consent order and the project completion report.
  • Wetland Restoration along Franklin Creek near the State Natural Area will be completed to induce filtration of field run-off, improving the water clarity and quality of the creek, a feeder tributary to the Rock River.  More details are included in Attachment B of the consent order.
  • Rock River Flathead Catfish Spawning Structure and Fry Habitat Restoration was completed in Fall 2015 to provide essential habitat for spawning Flathead Catfish and promote recolonization.  More details are included in Attachment C of the consent order and the project completion report.

If circumstances beyond the Trustees control prevent implementation of the final restoration effort, wetland restoration along Franklin Creek, then a restoration plan of an alternative project will be released for a 30-day public comment period.  The plan will identify how the funds will be used to address services lost to the public.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​