Editor’s note: The following guest commentary exceeds the BCR’s 500-word limit for Letters to the Editor, therefore, the BCR will extend the same opportunity to someone with an opposing view. Call BCR Editor Terri Simon before submitting at 815-875-4461, ext. 6330.
A few weeks ago I was reading an article on TotalFratMove.com, a pop culture website, that described Midwest people with “silver-medal winning hospitality, general agreeableness and love of deep-dish pizza.” I couldn’t help but think of DePue, my hometown, and wonder if this description really fit. Recalling trips to the Giants Den for breakfast, Casey’s for coffee, the Lake Park for stress-relief, and The Runabout for half light and fries — every bit but the deep-dish pizza seemed more than accurate. Always greeted with a warm smile, visitors will find our tiny town of 1,800 hospitable and more than generally agreeable (and with great fried chicken).
Underneath a veneer of kindness lays a decades-old problem that plagues our residents and our community year in and year out: The status of the beautiful Lake DePue. For nearly a century, industry, specifically Exxon Mobil and other companies that have since been purchased by CBS, used and abused the 400-plus acre body of water and decimated its condition. Pumping pollutants out of the plant not only affected the lake but also the town’s soil content. Levels of concern have been well documented by the Illinois EPA and private teams hired by “The DePue Group.” Don’t be misled. “The DePue Group” is actually a conglomerate legal team formed by CBS and Exxon Mobil. The tactic of taking the town’s name on diverts the attention of the casual news follower and distorts the dynamics of the case. These companies have done this in other cases.
A drive into town from east or west is lined by what used to be the world’s longest white picket fence (fact check that, but that’s the rumor). However, currently replacing that landmark is a wiry, shabby metal fence topped with barbed wire. I think they’re going for a rustic look, emphasis on the rust. Trapped inside the fence, right in the middle of town, is the highly toxic and unused plant site. What used to employ nearly 400 local residents now receives glances of contempt and serves as a painful reminder of our fenced in position.
I attended a CAG meeting in May. These meetings are open for citizens to attend and be informed with the current happenings surrounding the clean-up effort. I left more confused than I entered as representatives from “The DePue Group” and the EPA talked circles with each other, using terminology and science that only a studied mind could keep up with. I am under the impression this runaround was intentional just as their runaround regarding our imminently important case is.
Aside from a historic basketball tradition, DePue may be best known for hosting the annual U.S. Title Series National Championship Boat Races. The event draws racers and fans from all over the country and acts as a homecoming event for many former DePue residents. More good food, sunshine, the smell of burning gasoline and roaring engines attracts all ages to the shoreline.
As the runabouts and hydros race down the backstretch and into the final corner, remember the lake they race around could also be approaching its biological finish line. Even if you do not believe in accelerated climate change, the lasting and permanent affects humans have had on Lake DePue are undeniable. As our lake’s race comes to a close, the effort to clean it up is hardly getting off the beach. Far ahead of us, Exxon Mobil and CBS have been messing with our motors for 20 years now, hoping the race can be over before we can make any progress.
This is an election year. Take an active role in the voting process and support candidates who support you; that’s the way democracy is designed to work. I’ll be voting for the men or women who care about small town America, who care about issues pertinent to our generally agreeable disposition and day to day lives, who care about cases like DePue, who care about justice. For more information regarding the clean up effort, you can visit cleanupdepue.org.
Grant Alan Bosnich