ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. – It starts in your own backyard. Or, if you live here, on your own island.
That was the message delivered at Rock Island Arsenal’s Earth Day event, held April 21 at Memorial Park, where the RIA community gathered to celebrate the planetary home and commit to doing their part to protect and preserve Earth and its natural resources.
Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. John Dobbins provided opening remarks and introduced guest speaker Ranger Mike McKean from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mississippi River Visitor Center, located on the arsenal.
The theme for Earth Day 2022 is “Sustain the Mission. Secure the Future.” This nuanced statement reflects not only the global mission of ordinary citizens taking the helm to protect the environment, but also the military facet of the national defense mission and aligning it with responsible environmental stewardship.
It is a dichotomy that isn’t new to this historic arsenal, celebrating its 160th anniversary this year, because several of its infrastructure initiatives and improvements must strike the delicate balance of military mission and planet preservation, due to its location in the Mississippi River.
“Here at Rock Island Arsenal, we strive to take care of not only a major river system that surrounds us, but also the river banks of two community partner states, as well as every living thing the Mississippi sustains,” said Dobbins in his opening remarks at the event.
With buildings dating back more than 100 years, the challenge to renovate and modernize is a priority. One of largest undertakings the island has experienced has been the switch from coal to gas power, and the demolition of the obsolete coal plant located along a primary thoroughfare on the installation. With the demolition underway, now the sights are being set on alternate energy initiatives, including solar, to provide even cleaner energy sources for the arsenal.
“In our efforts to modernize our infrastructure to more fuel efficient and clean energy standards, we converted from coal to natural gas and are in the process of the demolition and cleanup from our obsolete heating plant,” said Dobbins. “We are also in the planning stages of increasing the use of the hydropower plant by employing dredging to increase hydropower capacity, and also planning additional energy resiliency projects to support the installation.”
These installation-level advancement and improvements are all a part of the larger-scale Department of the Army commitment to environmental excellence, Dobbins said.
“Everything we do here on our island ties back to the broader and holistic environmental standards of excellence employed worldwide at installations around the world,” he said. “These include exhaustive analyses of Army actions, highly technical planning for construction projects, environmental planning sessions for training and large-scale events, and impact assessments for real estate actions, among countless other factors charting the path for protecting our vital natural resources.”
McKean said USACE responsibility at RIA along the Mississippi River stretches almost 314 miles and encompasses large environmental stewardship mission, including the task of making the river safer and navigable for vital area industry.
“What we do involves a lot of surveying – we look at what is invasive, how to enhance habitats, taking what needs to be dredged and creating new habitats,” he said. “We make the river more navigable, but we also look at how things are growing and what needs to be done.”
Part of their mission involves enduring native varieties of flora and fauna thrive, which is why a team of four people planted 5,000 trees last year alone, in an effort to maintain nature’s delicate balance along the river. He said while many people understand the basics, some don’t realize the critical role trees play in the environment.
“Trees are the lungs of the earth,” he said. “One tree processes 68 pounds of carbon and supplies enough oxygen for four people annually, 70 to 80 percent of terrestrial species live in trees.”
Through a longstanding community partnership with Living Lands and Waters, a 501 (c)(3) environmental organization headquartered in East Moline, Illinois, several varieties of native oak saplings were available for attendees to take and plant at their homes. McKean said if everyone does his part, the future for the environment is bright.
“Earth Day reminds us to plant a tree, but we should make every day ‘Earth Day’,” McKean said. “Each year alone, people in over 190 countries perform more than 1 billion acts of stewardship, and we all need to continue to do our part.”