Waterlines: Confluence and Hope through Environmental Communication. The 15th biennial Conference on Communication and Environment (COCE). June 17-21, 2019, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Beer Tents, Speedboats, and River Sediment: Rhetorical Performances and Distributed Agency in the Lake Depue Superfund Site

Tom Bowers's picture
Bowers, Tom
Category of presentation: 
Scholarly papers

 In 1999, Depue, IL, a town of less than 1800 residents, was declared a Superfund site, a result of toxic contamination from a zinc smelter that operated within Depue until the 1990’s. In spite of the Superfund declaration, during the last weekend in July up to 30,000 fans of speedboat racing, past and current residents of Depue, and visitors from neighboring communities gather to not only observe the national championship boat races held on the lake but to also eat, drink, watch entertainment acts, and take part in the festive remaking of the lakeshore.  In 2012, however, increased amounts of sediment and a lack of rainfall lessened the depth of the lake, threatening the weekend festival. Yet the material ecology fostered by the objects that constitute the boat racing festival and the deposited sediment generated what Jane Bennett refers to as an “agency of assemblage” and a space for residents to perform as creative agents and to act to preserve and remediate the lake. This paper explores that performance in an effort to consider the potential of public participation and public agency in toxic environments as ontologically emergent.