Gas line threatens Cobb Park

January 3, 2019

KANKAKEE — A replacement natural gas line, which would serve hundreds of Nicor Gas customers, could cut through Cobb Park, one of Kankakee County’s most cherished parks.

The natural gas line would be a replacement and an upgrade for the existing line, which travels on the southern, eastern and northern edge of the park.

The proposed 12-inch line would replace the existing 8-inch line, put in place in 1946. However, the first proposal from Nicor Gas/Southern Companies, would basically run through the center of the historic park, rather than on its edges.

That fact is what is upsetting park neighbors, the park district and local elected officials.

Officials are declaring they will not agree to any line installation which cuts through the park and threatens the health of any of its stately white oak, sycamore and maple trees.

Workers for the gas company already have placed markers in the park as to where the new line could travel, as well as the location of the existing line.

To date, 13 trees have been marked for removal if the line were to go where planned. The new north-south line basically would travel through the middle of the park, passing just east of the tennis courts.

Eric Sadler, with Southern’s land management office, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Dayna Heitz, executive director of the Kankakee Valley Park District, which owns and maintains Cobb Park, said the district wants the new line to follow the path of the line being replaced. The path basically travels just inside the crushed limestone walking path, which rings the park.

The gas line gets to the park by traveling below the Kankakee River bed from the end of East Jeffery Street. That portion of pipe is also slated for replacement.

“The line serves the community. We know it needs to be upgraded. But we also have to think about the park as well,” Heitz said.

Heitz was unaware of the pending project until early December. She informed her board of commissioners shortly thereafter. She has been having discussions with Sadler since.

She said the utility has been trying to find a solution since. The park has numerous wooden posts hammered into the grass showing where the line would travel. The utility even marked the trees, which would be slated for removal with orange paint.

“These are 120- to 140-year-old trees,” Heitz explained Wednesday. “You don’t take down 140-year-old trees. You don’t disturb them at all.”

She is slated to have a Jan. 18 meeting with Southern regarding the company’s alternative plan. The park board’s next meeting with be 5 p.m. Jan. 28.

“No way are they doing this through the middle of our park. If this were done there would be no park left,” she said.

Elizabeth Dunbar, a Kankakee County Board member who represents much of the area around the park and also is vice president of the Riverview Historic District, which includes Cobb Park, said she’s not willing to budge an inch.

“Trees are one of the defining characteristics of our neighborhood. I’m very committed to keeping them,” she said.

Similar to Heitz, she is aware of Nicor’s need to upgrade its infrastructure.

“We want good service. We want them to invest here, but this is about the character of the park. This is not an appropriate use of park land. Especially an historic park.”

Although the property is in the city’s 2nd Ward, the park basically neighbors the home of 6th Ward Alderman Chris Curtis.

Similar to others, he was caught completely off guard by the plan.

“This is one of Kankakee County’s premier parks. This is something which must be protected. An alternative has to be found. I don’t know why they couldn’t run the line along Wildwood (Avenue). I know that would be more costly, but I would rather see asphalt dug up as opposed to 100-year-old trees.”

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