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Illinois hunting and fishing

Farmland east of Starved Rock State Park is slated to be developed as a sand mining operation. Photos by Chris Young.

Both sides of Starved Rock sand mine controversy bring concerns to Springfield

February 06, 2012 at 09:16 PM

The State Journal-Register

Longtime resident Merlin Calhoun compared LaSalle County to an apple that has been repeatedly bruised - bruised by mining.

Tony Giordano said his company, Mississippi Sand, is going above and beyond what is required to address environmental concerns because he wants to “be a good neighbor, a corporate citizen.”

Both sides of a controversial proposal to develop a sand mining operation on the eastern edge of Starved Rock State Park brought their concerns to Springfield and Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon Monday.

“My reaction was probably similar to everyone else’s reaction,” she said. “What can we do to protect the park?”

Illinois hunting and fishing
Illinois Canyon is closest to the eastern border of the park.

Opponents of the mine say it will hurt Starved Rock, the state’s most popular park. They believe increased truck traffic, blasting and dust will threaten tourism and wildlife.

Proponents of the project tout the 40 jobs to be created and say environmental concerns are being addressed. LaSalle County already has a number of mines, including half a dozen within a few miles of Starved Rock, they add.

Mississippi Sand LLC of Maryland Heights, Mo. Wants to mine St. Peter sandstone for use in the oil and natural gas industry.

As part of her duties, Simon chairs the Illinois River Coordinating Council and related councils for the Mississippi and the Wabash and Ohio Rivers.

Conference room packed

The joint meeting at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources packed a conference room with about 80 people.

Representatives of other state agencies, including DNR, Agriculture, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and others also sit on the council, which promotes coordination between government agencies, non-profit groups and others, but does not make policy.

Still, Monday’s meeting was an opportunity to bring the issue directly to Simon, who last month sent a letter to the LaSalle County Board, asking them to delay a vote on the issue until there could be more public review of the proposal.

So many people turned out for the first LaSalle County zoning board of appeals meeting that it was moved to a larger venue in Ottawa and stretched over two nights.

“I think it is unfair to consider the 15 hours the zoning board spent hearing about our application as some sort of miscarriage of justice or that they didn’t review the facts,” Giordano said.” I think it was very clear that those citizens spent seven hours each evening reviewing our application in great detail and hearing opposition comments as well.”

Application comes next

At its Jan. 12 meeting, the LaSalle County Board dismissed Simon’s request and approved the zoning board’s recommendation to allow mining on 350 acres of farmland along Illinois 71 next to the park.

DNR has been in the unusual position of being the adjacent landowner and the issuer of mining permits.

The next step is for Mississippi Sands to submit a permit application to DNR’s office of Mines and Minerals.

Giordano said he expects his company to submit the application in the next week to 10 days.

Opponents are not willing to give up. They asked DNR to carefully review effects on water quality and a natural area located on the property to be mined.

“Simply put, this mine is sited in the wrong place,” said Don Goerne, a member of the Illinois Audubon and Starved Rock Audubon societies.

DNR director Marc Miller said his agency will follow the law.

“We have to offer a level playing field,” he said. “We are going to regulate according to the law, and we are going to stick to those processes and do what is required under the law.”

Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528.

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