From outdoors enthusiasts to school superintendents, more Illinoisans are hopeful that Gov. J.B. Pritzker will sign a capital-spending bill, soon.

Locally, folks with some capital ideas include the La Salle elementary school board and a group of 30 northern Illinois residents who took a bus trip last week to Springfield to push for financial and perhaps staffing support for the Hennepin Canal.

One school’s need

Tuesday night, La Salle schools superintendent Brian DeBernardi said he is monitoring things to see if the district can get some aid for an impending, half-million-dollar asbestos-abatement and locker room remodeling and renovation project at Lincoln Jr. High.

“I hope they have matching grants for shovel-ready projects,” he told the school board members, noting that this project is one of them. He said he will notify all the people he needs to contact for the project, which the board is scheduled to vote on in June.

“If they do a match, we’d be ready,” he said.

Canal mission

A group of fishermen, nature enthusiasts, hikers, kayakers, bicyclists, a dogsled musher and promoters of the Hennepin Hundred runners hopped on a bus chartered by the Friends of the Hennepin Canal at the canal visitors center last week after an invitation from canal supporter, state Sen. Chuck Weaver (R-Peoria).

Michele Hartwig, founder and organizer of the Hennepin Hundred, said she and the canal supporters headed to the state capitol with dozens of ideas and talked to many state legislators and officials about funding problems, staffing shortfalls and equipment shortcomings. Lack of state support for the canal and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ parks in general, she said, has led to unintentional delays in repairs, resulting in bigger problems.

Many canal lock gates are leaking to varying extents, and repairs are not in the annual budget, she indicated.

Though the issues are many, for now, state legislators told Hartwig and canal supporters to get focused, fast.

“Senator Weaver has been super, super supportive of the canal,” Hartwig said. “He asked us to pick a specific project and asked us to fight for that particular project.”

The reason, she said, is the General Assembly and governor are talking about a capital-spending bill on major projects.

Though the canal supporters can think of many, the most crucial at this time is to rebuild the “guard lock” at Sterling-Rock Falls.

The lock is ancient, needs replacement now and if it fails, the Rock River that feeds the canal will flood through and cause collateral damage downstream. Plus, the entire 100-mile canal system would lose its main water source.

Craig Sterrett can be reached at (815) 220-6935 or ntlocal@newstrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_NewsEditor.

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