Bi-State Regional Commission meets monthly on the third Wednesday of the month.  Read more for highlights from recent meetings.

Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) Update

Rachel K. Hawes, NESP Ecosystem Program Manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and Heather Bishop, Outreach and Customer Requirement Specialist, provided information on various aspects of the NESP program. NESP is the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program. It is long-term program to both improve river navigation reliability and capacity, and to contribute to ecosystem restoration.

The foundation for NESP began in 1993 with a feasibility study and later in 2007 program authorization. In 2020/2021 funding for pre-construction and design were awarded, and construction project initiated in 2022. Funding for FY23 NESP comes from the Bi-Partisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), FY22 Congressionally-Directed Spending, and FY22 USAC Work Plan totaling $886.38 million. This includes a Lock 25 new lock expansion to 1,200 feet, navigation and ecosystem programs, and systemic mitigation. In FY24, $67.68 million is programmed including a lock expansion at LaGrange and ecosystem projects. In the Bi-State Region, the Lock 14 mooring cell construction is underway; and construction/design services for the Andalusia Island Complex.

Impacts of Canadian Wildfires on Regional Air Quality

John Gering from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources provided a presentation on the impacts of the Canadian wildfires on air quality in Iowa and the United States. Smoke from the wildfires in Canada has impacted Iowa beginning on May 18, and has continued to influence air quality conditions causing high readings of ozone and particulates (PM2.5). The smoke is lofted high into the air by the heat produced, and can be transported by winds far from its origin. Weather conditions may cause the smoke to come down to the surface or remain aloft. Humans and air monitors are impacted if the smoke drops down to the surface.

Since May 18, smoke from wildfires in Canada, in conjunction with weather patterns, contributed to 124 ozone exceedances and 22 PM 2.5 exceedances of the National Air Quality Standards. He noted PM2.5 monitor data has only been collected through May due to a lag related to the process of collecting data, and all Illinois data for both pollutants are not included in the numbers he reported, so the number of exceedences will increase. June and July were the worst months for impacts.

Mr. Gering explained that Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM2.5) is microscopic solids or liquid droplets of pollution that are so small (smaller than a red blood cell) they bypass the body’s normal protections and may lodge in the lungs. PM2.5 is generated by all types of combustion: motor vehicles, power plants, wood burning, and some industrial processes. Most fine particle pollution is formed when organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, ammonia, and sulfur dioxide react in the atmosphere to form secondary PM2.5. Ozone is a pollutant that is formed in the atmosphere over time from emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx). VOCs are compounds that evaporate easily into air. VOC emissions come from things such as industrial use of solvents and degreasing agents, evaporation of gasoline, and products such as paints and cleaning products. NOx is emitted from cars, trucks, power plants, and various industrial sources, usually when some type of fuel is burned. When VOC and NOx emissions are combined on warm, sunny, non-breezy days, ozone may be formed.

PM2.5 and Ozone impacts humans in sensitive groups of people with heart or lung disease, older adults, children and teenagers, and outdoor workers. Health impacts can include asthma attacks, heart attacks, difficulty breathing, and lung damage.

Mr. Gering said if an area had air quality measurements of one or more of the six National Ambient Air Quality Standards for three or more years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staff review data to determine if the area should be considered in nonattainment. Nonattainment is based on a review of air quality measurements and emissions information, computer air modeling results that provide insight to the dispersion of air pollution, and weather patterns.

Exceptional events are unusual or naturally occurring events that can affect air quality, but are not reasonably controllable by air agencies. Valid data can be excluded from comparison attainment status for air quality standards under certain circumstances. For Iowa, exclusions require concurrence from EPA Region 7 Headquarters in Kansas City (Region 5 in Illinois). If EPA concurs with the exclusion, they will only concur regarding those values that “make or break” an attainment decision. Therefore, if a value for an area will not have a bearing on attainment vs. non-attainment, EPA will not even evaluate the exclusion request. Iowa DNR and many other states impacted by the Canadian wildfires are in dialogue with EPA regarding procedures for making the exceptional events exclusion request less cumbersome in regard to the Canadian wildfires.

Bi-State Regional Commission 101

Ms. Denise Bulat, Executive Director, provided an overview on the Bi-State Regional Commission. The Commission mission is to serve as a forum for intergovernmental cooperation and delivery of regional programs and to assist member local governments in planning and development projects.  Bi-State is consortium of governments with voluntary members and thus, it is NOT another layer of government or a not-for-profit.  It was formed under 28E statutes in Iowa and Joint Action Agency statutes in Illinois.

In 1966, the Commission first began as a two county planning commission to meet the requirements of the Federal Aid Highway Transportation Act of 1962 providing for cooperative transportation planning in metro areas. In 1972, counties in the metropolitan statistical area were required to join together for HUD 701 Comprehensive Planning so Henry County was added to the Commission. The U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration began forming regional economic development districts in the 1970’s and Muscatine and Mercer Counties joined the Commission.

Bi-State Services to member governments include community and regional programs/services which consists of comprehensive, land use community development/strategic plans; household surveys; park, recreation and greenway plans; and development codes such as zoning and subdivision ordinances.  Multi modal transportation long and short range planning and related technical assistance is a large majority of staff efforts.  Data and graphic/mapping services consist of fact sheets, marketing brochures and maps for many different purposes.  Administrative services include personnel policy research, word processing and payroll/accounting assistance. Grant assistance in the form of research, application preparation and management are also a large part of the services provided.

Regional and intergovernmental programs are comprised of activities such as joint purchasing, riverfront council, regional trail committee, drug/alcohol testing consortium, regional solid waste management planning, traffic safety forum, Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), revolving loan fund (RLF), and regional and metro transportation planning.  The Commission has delegated authority to certain committees for final decision making.  All of its transportation policy committees program millions of dollars annually.  The revolving loan fund boards have lent over $10 million since the mid “80’s to area businesses.  And the Great River Trail Council, which is now retired, oversaw 60 miles of trail development from Sunset Marina to Thompson, Illinois.

Ms. Bulat concluded with reasons to cooperate regionally such as to plan more realistically with 22 contiguous local governments in urban area with population of over 300,000.  Intergovernmental arrangements may also save money, provide the opportunity to deliver quality services, to achieve greater political/economic clout, to solve a specific problem, or to share scarce federal/state resources.