Saving Starved Rock and Losing Logan Square Kitchen

May 20, 2012

Starved Rock update: IEPA hearing next week – you can weigh in

I received a newsletter the other day from Tess Wendel at the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club concerning the ongoing process to site an open pit sand mine next to the eastern entrance of Starved Rock State Park. It read in part:

The fight to protect Starved Rock State Park from Mississippi Sand’s frac sand mine isn’t over! Our push for transparency and public involvement in the permitting process has paid off.

The Illinois EPA is holding a public availability session to answer questions about the permits Mississippi Sand has applied for and collect comments related to the air and water permits under their jurisdiction.

Representatives from DNR and the Historic Preservation Agency and Mississippi Sand will also be available to answer questions.

Mississippi Sand has applied for its mining permit from the Department of Natural Resources and related air and water permits from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency but none have been granted due to the numerous concerns voiced by Sierra Club and our partners.

The Sierra Club has coordinated with locals in the area to write a detailed citizen complaint letter to the IDNR about our concerns for the project and to request a public hearing under the Illinois Rivers and Streams Act. We also requested a hearing for the air permit and asked that Mississippi Sand be required to obtain an individual permit for wastewater discharge from the mine, which will offer more opportunity for additional environmental protections. Recently we have been working with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and local tribes to require Mississippi Sand to do a phase one archeological survey because a 1987 University of Illinois study found relics from as far back as 10,000 years old on the site.

There is a link to a page on the Sierra Club site where you can write to IEPA to voice your concerns. There is also a page of talking points about this issue.

Tess Wendell is on the show this morning to talk more about the meeting next Wednesday, May 23 at at Illinois Valley Community College, 815 N Orlando Smith Road, Oglesby, IL 61348 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.

She tells me that this should not be considered a traditional public hearing because it is more informal than that. She likens it to an open house, where each agency will have representatives to answer questions about the permits and how the mine will affect their organization and constituents. She’s also counting on the IEPA to report pertinent comments and information to other agencies, including the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

She considers the session an opportunity to ask tough questions about how the natural areas near the site as well as the health of residents and visitors to the area will be protected. Ultimately, IEPA has to decide if the project is likely to cause enough detriment to deny permits.

What I can’t figure out is why the IDNR hasn’t played a larger role in this decision…at least not to this point. After all, it is the IDNR that issues the mining permit and, according to Illinois Sierra Club, must “consider the short and long term impact of the proposed mining on vegetation, wildlife, fish, land use, land values, local tax base, the economy of the region and the State, employment opportunities, air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination, noise pollution and drainage.”

Wendel argues that IDNR should have its own public hearing and comment period. And it’s strange that IDNR did not particpate in the LaSalle County hearings on the proposed mine, even though they are an adjacent landowner. Says Illinois Sierra Club:

The Department did not represent the citizens of the state to protect OUR lands. IDNR needs to establish a mechanism by which it can both serve its role as the permitting agency for activities such as mining and oil and gas drilling while also standing up as the protector of our state’s lands.

I received this message just the other day from Vicki Tracy, a concerned citizen who lives in Ottawa:

Since the initial flurry of activity when Mississippi Sand first made their intentions known, it seems that there has been the feeling that…..well, that Mississippi Sand has gotten their way. What people need to know is that it is not a done deal, this is not some forgotten piece of land, abandoned to those who see no other value in it except the dollars that they can put in their pockets at the expense of our native people’s ancestral history, or the water and air quality of future generations. Do we really think people want to come to Starved Rock to breath the freshly disbursed silica dust?  This land sits at the feet of our crowned jewel!

This whole thing reminds me of the story of “The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg”. Are we really that eager to tear open this beautiful land, rich in great natural diversity and of archeological importance. The only gold in this goose is for Mississippi Sand, and the people of LaSalle County will be left with the carcass.

This should not be a rush to rip open the land only to find later that we should have thought about it more carefully, studied it more thoroughly and planed out what kind of legacy we really want to leave future generations. I understand there needs to be a balance. There comes a point however when the scale may tip  in the wrong direction and we have thrown away what can not be replaced.

If you want to get involved, write to Tess Wendel at Tess.Wendel@sierraclub.org. All comments to the IEPA should be submitted by May 31st to Brad Frost, Illinois EPA, 1021 N. Grand Ave. E., P.O. Box 19506, Springfield, IL 62794.

Chicago bureaucracy wins; Logan Square Kitchen will close

I can’t believe that it’s been more than two years since I first reported on the difficulties that shared use kitchens were facing in the City of Chicago. It started when Department of Health inspectors destroyed thousands of dollars of fruit purees owned by pastry chef Flora Lazar and stored at Kitchen Chicago.

It wasn’t a health issue, it was a licensing issue. And while the food destruction was not repeated over the next couple of years, the harassment of shared use kitchens by various city agencies, specifically the Dept of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP), continued. Why? That’s the $64,000 question. To some degree, it was because shared use kitchens represented something bold and new–and bureaucracies abhor pretty much anything bold and new.

In January of 2011, I met Zina Murray, owner and operator of Logan Square Kitchen, in my own neighborhood. In fact, I spent some time in court with Murray last August, when she fought and successfully beat an attempt by the Chicago Department of Health to fine her $500 for a violation that she considered “groundless.” This was after LSK was inspected 19 times in 2 years (the law requires 2 inspections per year, FYI).

But Murray continued to fight, coming up with a 5 step program to reform the Chicago Department of Health. This was on the heels of a city ordinance that was passed in May of 2011 and which was suppose to make it easier for shared use kitchens to exist.

And then, wonder of wonders, Mayor Rahm Emanuel himself showed up at Logan Square Kitchen on April 17 to announce a new ordinance that would streamline business licensing, making it faster and easier for businesses to operate in Chicago.

Less than a month later, Zina Murray announced that Logan Square Kitchen would close forever on June 28.

What the hell happened? From her own post about her decision, Murray writes:

It’s a sad time when our government kills the very things that can heal our City.  Logan Square Kitchen was designed to heal the local economy, environment and food system all at once.  It was an innovative, bold idea that never had its chance.  The Dept of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) began hammering nails in its coffin before we even opened our doors in 2009 and hasn’t stopped.  Unfortunately, we see no end to regulatory burdens, which will continue to block our ability to grow a healthy business.

Over and over we heard, “you did everything right.” See the Alderman before building purchase. All City Depts approve us through Green Building Permit Program. Go to BACP in advance of applying for license, completely disclosing the business model.   Spend 3 months talking about what licenses we needed. Apply as directed.  Told we ‘misrepresented’ our business. Told we can’t have license caused we’ve failed our “furniture inspection.” Correct that, and get licenses contingent on conditions we can’t meet.  Then the Zoning folks try to shut us down. 20 health inspections.  18 months wrapped in red tape.  Enduring intimidation and harassment, the resources we set aside to ramp up the business were instead used to pay lawyers and our mortgage while we were denied the right to operate.

When our licensing difficulties ceased, they were just beginning for our clients. Before the “helpful” Shared Kitchen Ordinance that took effect Sept 1, 2011, we got clients licensed in a week or two.  Of course, we had to be inspected by Health each time. Now, we’re the inspections have stopped, but it takes 1-3 months and multiple trips to City Hall.  Unfortunately, Mayor Emmanuel’s new ‘streamlining’ of business license ordinance that passed last week does not offer any streamlining for shared kitchens.

It should come as no surprise that we must close.  LSK is collateral damage from choices that City employees make each day—people that have lost the ability to connect their actions with the consequences they cause.  In all the many, many meetings I’ve had in City Hall in the past three years, there’s a question no one ever asks.  “Is it good for our City?”

That prompted a response from the city, specifically the BACP:

“We are sorry to hear that an innovative, neighborhood business such as Logan Square Kitchen is closing. From Day 1, BACP worked with Logan Square kitchen to properly license their facility – just as other businesses with the same activities require – and even helped them with their state liquor license. BACP has not had any issues with LSK or issued any citations since assisting them through the permitting process. The City wants to help businesses while also ensuring that they are safe, sanitary, and operating legally. This is why we now have an emerging business permit to help new business models get up and running while we determine how to license and regulate.”

And that led to this from Murray:

As many times as I’ve heard these statements of deep denial, I’m blown away every time. I imagine that BACP Commissioner Rosemary Krimbel approved this statement for release. And you can see her standing behind the Mayor in the video of the press conference at our place (she’s the blond in the black jacket.) So how does she reconcile this statement with the statements the Mayor made, as she nods away? About 9 minutes in to the video, the Mayor describes how the proliferation of licenses and burdensome process has “small businesses focused on City Hall and not on their customer. And that is wrong.” As I said yesterday, we are BACP’s collateral damage. Yet here we are, staring at BACP’s statement that my experience is required and BACP conduct was normal.

The Mayor said he believes that “small businesses are the lifeblood of economic activity and job creation” in Chicago. Unfortunately, too many of us leave too much blood on the 8th floor of City Hall.

Here’s the real problem that the BACP statement illustrates. The same people and culture are still in place. Many BACP bureaucrats said NO to LSK to relieve themselves of the responsibility of YES. And plenty more watched silently while we twisted in the wind. We are all responsible for our conduct. And our conduct defines our character. We must hold our public servants accountable for their actions– otherwise we give tacit approval to their behavior, and on it goes.

In the green world, we would describe BACP’s behavior as unsustainable– it is destroying the resources upon which it depends. It’s a pretty short walk from vital business activity to the salaries, benefits and pensions of our public servants. BACP, your choices have consequences, and the LSK closure is the tip of the iceberg. I hope you can begin to connect the dots, cause we don’t get out of this mess unless we work together.

Last but not least, Murray thinks that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is unfairly being blamed for the demise of her facility. In her post, Our Mayor’s getting a bum rap, she explains that he was a victim of bad timing.

Well, Ms. Murray is entitled to her opinion and I’m entitled to mine. Just as I hold former Mayor Richard M. Daley accountable for not getting recycling done in Chicago, I can hold Mayor Rahm Emanuel accountable for not reigning in unreasonable bureaucrats. That’s part of the job, you know. If you want to take credit for the City’s accomplishments, you have to take some of the heat for its failures. Logan Square Kitchen should never have been allowed to go under.

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