The stories that kept Wilmington talking in 2022

A NEW FENCE went up near the dam on the Kankakee River in Wilmington in 2022. While the fence cannot keep everyone away from the dam, it's meant to help prevent access to the area close to the dam. The installation of the fence was one of several local stories that had people talking in 2022.


It was a busy year in 2022, as pandemic restrictions were lifted and much of the world made a return back to normalcy. And, there was plenty to talk about around town.

Here, a look at some of the stories that made headlines in Wilmington over the past 12 months.

Loves Truck stop approved

One of the most controversial stories to make the news in 2022 came in November, when the City Council approved an annexation agreement to allow a Love’s Travel Center to be built at River Road and Route 53.

The measure narrowly passed the Wilmington City Council on Nov. 15, following a two hour public comment period where several members of the public asked for the city to reject the proposal, after the Planning and Zoning Board also said no to the project.

Love’s intends to develop 11 acres of the 32 acre parcel to include a 13,000 square foot travel center and fast food restaurant, car and diesel gas pumps, truck scales, 62 car parking spaces, and 71 truck parking spaces. The site will include construction of a private road into the new development between Kankakee River Drive and River Road. The plan represents a $15 million investment from Love’s.

Commissioners with the Planning and Zoning Board and members of the public raised concerns over the project, including diesel pollution, traffic noise, air quality, light pollution, increased garbage, the potential to negatively impact property values for homes in Water’s Edge, Northcrest and Foxtail Commons, negative affects on other local businesses, the potential for added crime, and the potential to increase truck traffic in an area already saturated with trucks.

Those who spoke out against the plans cited concerns that trucks and truck traffic are already wreaking havoc on the city and its roads, and building a truck stop only benefits those damaging trucks, not residents.
But city leaders said without the annexation agreement, the truck stop can seek approvals though Will County, meaning the truck stop is likely to be built regardless. Approving the plans means the city has a say in how the project moves forward.

Aldermen also noted that the addition of the travel center could help make up for some of the revenue that will be lost when D’Orazio Ford and Arnie Bauer Buick move out of Wilmington. Both dealerships have signed a development agreement to move to Braidwood by the end of 2024.

The final vote was 6-1, with Alderman Kevin Kirwin the lone no vote. Alderman Leslie Allred was not present.

The truck stop is expected to break ground in spring, and be complete by late fall of 2023.

A place to park

In October, the long awaited downtown parking lot was finally completed, thanks to grant funding the city received from the Heritage Corridor CVB.

In spring 2022, city leaders announced that Wilmington had been awarded approximately $236,000 to help pay for the lot. The parking lot combines two vacant city-owned properties that sit along the west side of North Water Street between Jackson and Van Buren Streets.

The new lot includes 35 regular stalls, two ADA stalls, and two electric vehicle (EV) charging stalls, and adds 480 square feet for hardscaping, and provides needed extra space for downtown businesses as well as special events.

The completed improvements include planters and picnic tables.

The parking lot was constructed by PT Ferro.

Dam, that’s different

The riverfront in Wilmington got a new look in 2022, at least for a football field length portion nearest to the dam.

In the spring, the city removed the jersey barriers near the Kankakee River dam in the city-owned South Island park, and replaced those barriers with an 8-foot tall aluminum commercial grade fence that starts from the guard rail at the one car bridge over the mill race and extends 330 feet into the exclusion zone.

The fence was placed for two reasons—safety, and liability.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources considers Wilmington’s dam one of the most dangerous dams in the state. At least 16 people have died at the site since 1982, and the city remains in litigation with two families over three different deaths.

Due to the city’s long term legal issues over dam safety, the city’s liability coverage related to incidents at the dam was limited to $500,000 in 2018.

The hope is that the fence will provide a bigger obstacle for those who are determined to get close to the dangerous dam. The fencing is in addition to other measures added for safety over the years, not to replace or repeal those items.

In 2018, the city created the exclusion zone on the west bank of the South Island Park, from above the dam to Baltimore Street. The penalty for entering the water in the zone is $250 for the first offense, with a maximum of $750 for additional offenses.

The $21,800 fencing project was approved in 2021, and was placed by C&D Custom Fence and Deck of Kankakee.

While the city has an ad-hoc committee dedicated to coming up with solutions at the dam, be those solutions removal, changes, or to just leave the dam alone, the dam has not come up for discussion since spring 2022.

Chief hired, chief leaves

After an extensive search, Wilmington appointed a new police chief in 2022. But, Chief Joseph Mitchell’s tenure was short, after he left the post just nine months into the job.

Mitchell was sworn in as chief on March 15, and officially took up duties on April 4. But, the city’s top cop tenured his resignation

Before his departure, Mitchell told city officials that throughout his brief tenure, the Wilmington Police Department was able to help reduce crime, increase truck violation efforts, create liaisons with other community organizations, and increase patrols along the Kankakee River to keep people away from the dam.

While city leaders expressed a desire to keep Mitchell on board, the chief said some expected terms of his contract simply were not met, and with other offers on the table, he had to make the choice to exit the position.

“I appreciate your time, thank you,” Mitchell told the council in October. “Seven months is a long time, ladies and gentlemen, to reach an agreement. Seven months. I have family. My children are going to college. Somebody comes up to me, looks me in the eye, tells me that they’re going to give me a written agreement on something, I stand by that agreement… I’ve asked repeatedly ladies and gentlemen to get this thing resolved. I’ve asked repeatedly. And all I’ve gotten was, we’re working on it.”

The details of that contract were not disclosed, but the council discussed Mitchell’s contract agreement in executive session earlier this month.

On Dec. 20, Deputy Chief Adam Zink was elevated to the role, earning unanimous consent from the members of the City Council to serve as the now-current Chief of Police in Wilmington.

Community rallies over stolen flags

If one thing showed the way a community can come together, it was how folks from all over town rallied to replace 26 flags that were stolen or tossed off the bridge over the Kankakee River in May.

Just a week after the incident was reported to the WPD, local residents, civic groups and businesses collected enough funds to help the Wilmington Moose Riders replace those flags that went missing over Memorial Day Weekend.

Moose Riders chapter for the Wilmington Lodge has been placing the flags during patriotic weekends and events since 2018.

But within just a few days of the flags going missing, the community collected almost $2,000, enough to place an order for new flags.

The flags were reported missing on Sunday, May 29, one day after the members of the Wilmington Moose Lodge Riders had placed them along the bridge’s walkway.

Shortly after the report, four flags were discovered in the river. The case remains open.