Keeping natural areas safe and your holiday plants alive

November 25, 2012

Illinois environmental issues: the good news and the bad news

First, the bad news…

I received notices about two environmental battles this week–all on the same day, ironically. I’ll start with the bad news first.

Tracy Yang at the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club and Elliot Brinkman with the Prairie Rivers Network wrote to say that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Office of Mines and Minerals approved Phase I of the Starved Rock mine on Tuesday, November 13th. Here’s part of the press release:

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources Office of Mines and Minerals (IDNR – OMM) has given the go-ahead to a controversial open pit mine next to Starved Rock State Park in LaSalle County, despite objections from local residents and thousands of Illinois residents.

“Starved Rock is one of Illinois’ most special places, and we are disappointed that IDNR is approving a project that puts it at risk,” said Jack Darin, Director of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club.

The 80-acre open pit sand mine will be located at the east entrance to Starved Rock State Park. There is great concern about its impact on the park, one of Illinois’ top tourist attractions. Noise from nonstop mining and sand processing operations, water pollution from the mine into the park, silica sand dust in the air, the potential loss of Native American artifacts due to mining and the increased truck traffic on the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway running past the mine site and through the park are among the many issues cited by local residents and park advocates.

An additional permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is still needed to allow the release of wastewater from sand processing. The Agency has not yet made a decision whether to allow the new discharge. Wastewater from the mine would be dumped in Horseshoe Creek, which runs from the mine site into Starved Rock State Park.

“The proposed mining operation will be pumping millions of gallons of wastewater into Horseshoe Creek, which flows through the park before reaching the Illinois River,” said Elliot Brinkman, Habitat Conservation Specialist with Prairie Rivers Network. “We are concerned that these increased flows will contribute to higher levels of sediment and erosion in this small, vulnerable stream.”

Impacts to the historic, aesthetic and ecological integrity of the Starved Rock area are another issue. A recent Archaeological Survey confirmed the presence of no less than four sites containing Native American artifacts located on the mine site. The project is also near Plum Island, where in 2004, then-Lt. Governor Pat Quinn led efforts to stop commercial development of the 55-acre island, home to nesting and roosting American bald eagles.

For those of you who are regular listeners to the show, this is nothing new. The IDNR has been moving inexorably toward approving the open pit sand mine on the eastern entrance of Starved Rock State Park ever since the LaSalle County Board approved it last year. However, an additional permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is still needed to allow the release of wastewater from sand processing. The Agency has not yet made a decision whether to allow the new discharge.

We’re getting closer and closer to the time where Governor Pat Quinn might become the only firewall between protecting the most beloved state park in Illinois and allowing this travesty of greed and capitalism run amok to go forward.

There’s still time to write the governor, so click on this link and DO IT TODAY!

Now for the good news…

Thanks to the work of a group called HOMES (Helping Others Maintain Environmental Standards) and other environmental organizations, including Illinois Citizens for Clean Air & Water (ICCAW) and Prairie Rivers Network (PRN), a proposed megadairy in Jo Daviess County that would have generated an estimated 200 million gallons of manure annually has been forced to close, after a five year battle.

Matthew Alschuler, Press Agent for HOMES, who is on my show today, sent me the press release from HOMES announcing their victory:

On November 15, 2012, the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB) announced a proposed settlement agreement between the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and Traditions megadairy owner/investor, A.J. Bos of Bakersfield, California. According to the terms of the settlement, Bos will abandon the site in Jo Daviess County, Illinois, where the Traditions facility was being constructed. Workers are already land-applying the remaining liquids contained in the partially constructed manure ponds and digester pit to prepare the land for sale.

“Stopping this dangerous project would not have been possible without the dedication and commitment of HOMES and their supporters. Never before in my work in Illinois and across the country have I witnessed a community succeeding in halting the construction of an industrial livestock production facility after groundbreaking,” says Danielle Diamond, Attorney for the Illinois Citizens for Clean Air & Water and Executive Director of the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project.

The five year, multi-million dollar battle that pitted Bos against Jo Daviess County farmers and other residents, also saw agencies like the Illinois EPA, the national EPA, Illinois Farm Bureau, and the Illinois Department of Agriculture embroiled in the procedings. The Rock River Times gives a pretty good account of the bitter fight.

Attorney Danielle Diamond, who is on the show this morning, was a guest of mine at the end of September, when we talked about the fight against CAFOs in Illinois and across the nation. I was stunned when I discovered in that conversation that there is no comprehensive data base for these operations, regardless of how much they pollute our lands.

On that show, I talked to David and Renee Leifheit of China, Illinois, who had little recourse when the Illinois Department of Agriculture approved the siting of a CAFO near their home in Ogle County six years ago. Reasonably, they felt as though the value of their land had been significantly diminished and that they should be given a break in their tax assessment. Eventually, they took the issue to the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board (PTAB) ,where a settlement reduced the Leifheit’s property taxes by 12.5%, retroactive to the date of the CAFO’s construction.

Certainly, that would not be enough for me, but the point is that land owners often have no recourse at all when a CAFO is sited near their property.

Perhaps this agreement will give Illinoisans a little more leverage in the the fight to protect their lands against the damage caused by these inhumane operations. We can only hope.

Keeping your holiday plants happy and healthy

It’s that time of year when plants arrive in your house, either as gifts from well-meaning friends and relatives, or because you decided that you wanted to get into the spirit of the season. Some plants, like Christmas trees and poinsettias (and don’t get me started on pronunciation), are likely to be visitors to your household, only to be discarded once we move into the new year.

Others will bite the dust simply because of your own ignorance of how to keep them alive–and I say that in the nicest possible way.

Still others are plants that many people keep all year long–Christmas cactus and Norfolk Island Pine, for example.

Often, the same rules make sense for other tropicals in your home apply to these seemingly exotic plants. Which is why it’s a good idea to keep the University of Illinois Extension Houseplants like handy. U of I has also just posted a web page called Holiday Plant Selection, which you will also find helpful.

Of course, because I have a radio show, I get to bring in people with hands-on horticultural knowledge. Today I’m pleased to welcome Richard Christakes, CEO of one of my great sponsors, Alsip Home & Nursery, at 20601 S. LaGrange Road in Frankfort, Illinois and 10255 Wicker Avenue in St. John, Indiana.

The great thing about Rich is that, like many people in the industry, he started at the bottom, watering and caring for garden center plants, and worked his way to the top. He also does a little radio on the side, but I’m not going to let that intimidate me.

Get your questions about holiday and tropical plants ready, ’cause he’ll be on the show in the second hour. The number, as always, is 773-763-9278.