Still fighting to save an Illinois treasure

August 5 , 2012

Starved Rock v. Mississippi Sand: It’s not over ’til it’s over

It seems more than ironic to me that the home page for Starved Rock State Park contains this phrase: “VOTED THE #1 ATTRACTION IN THE STATE OF ILLINOIS – is a world apart from anything else in Illinois! You will know it the minute you enter the park, as you wind your car through the towering trees.”

I wonder how long it will continue to be the number one attraction in Illinois…if Mississippi Sand LLC is allowed to scar the eastern entrance with an open pit mine that will produce silica sand to be used in the fracking process…and don’t even get me started on that. We’re told that it will bring around 39 jobs to the area. Please look at that number–39! Meanwhile, Starved Rock is a destination for more than two million visitors each year.

And if you want to know how dangerous that sand can be, you might want to sneak a peak as this Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for Mississippi Sand LLC sent to me by listener–and lawyer–Steven Penn. He just happens to be part of Penn Rakauski, a firm that handles asbestos-related cases, though he has written to me about the dangers of silicosis, which can be caused by exposure to the very dust that will be kicked up in this mine. As Penn states, ” Company websites are often the best evidence against them.”

The battle to preserve the natural wonders that make Starved Rock unique continues to rage–if not much in the press (when’s the last time you saw a news story?), then certainly between environmental and civic groups and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). The problem is that IDNR has a mandate not only to protect our natural resources, but to facilitate their extraction, too.

As I told IDNR Director Marc Miller at Governor Pat Quinn’s signing of the landfill ban legislation on Chicago’s south side a couple of weeks ago, “You can’t serve two masters.” He didn’t argue with me.

So where does that leave us right now? Basically, wondering whether IDNR, which has stalled, obfuscated and been fairly opaque in this matter (in my opinion), will finally get around to having public hearings. Recently, the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, which has been one of the groups in the center of this fight, sent out a letter outlining the situation. They started with the statement, “The fight to protect Starved Rock State Park from an open pit frac sand mine isn’t over.” But protecting the park won’t be easy. From their letter:

Unfortunately IDNR’s Office of Mines and Minerals approved Mississippi Sand‘s mining permit on June 15th and has sent the company a bond and fee letter. A written response from the company with the correct financial information will finalize the mining permit. There is no regulatory deadline for responding to the letter and we suspect that the company will want to be assured that their air and water permits are good to go before responding.

Before approving a permit DNR is supposed to consider the short and long term impacts ((see 62 Ill. Adm. Code 300.70(a)) but there are no findings documents detailing such work. We are concerned that the Office of Mines and Minerals is simply deferring to the county decision rather than using their regulatory authority to truly evaluate all the impacts. The Sierra Club is also concerned with the DNRs response to the citizen complaint letter that was written in March that had voiced project concerns and requested a public hearing under the Illinois Rivers and Streams Act. DNR gave a one-page response to a detailed 10-page letter and did not respond until July 3, almost 20 days after they had already approved the permit. This untimely response along with their response to comments submitted during the public availability session have been disappointing and show a lack of care for both our beloved state park and the surrounding residents. (Emphasis mine)

At the meeting we also asked for air and water monitoring to establish current conditions on the site. Right now no baseline monitoring is required nor are there permit conditions requiring monthly monitoring once operations begin. The air and water and related construction permits from IEPA are on a slower timeline and we are hopeful that the numerous comments generated will cause the decision makers to think twice before approving the permits.

In the meantime individual calls to the Governor and Lieutenant Governor as well as the director of the Office of Mines and Minerals at IDNR about your concerns related to this mine project will help ensure basic protections are put in place for humans and wildlife.

Governor Pat Quinn: 217-782-0244
Lt. Governor Sheila Simon: 217-558-3085
Michael Woods- Director of OMM at IDNR: 217-782-6791

Fortunately, friends of Starved Rock seem to have found a friend in Thomas Davis, Chief of the Environmental Bureau in the State Attorney General’s office. He has fired off letters to Anne Mankowski, Director, Illinois Nature Preserves Commission; Randy Heinhorn, Acting Director, Illinois Nature Preserves Commission; and Michael Woods, Acting Director for the Office of Mines and Minerals of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to see that he’s not pleased with the way the permitting process has been proceeding. In particular, he seems concerned that due process is being circumvented in regard to the Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act and the Consultation Procedures for Assessing Impacts of Agency Actions on Endangered and Threatened Species and Natural Areas at Part 1075. He writes to Michael Woods:

Your letter, however, takes an unduly narrow view of your agency’s statutory obligations: “The Department has no authority to consider potential mining in reviewing this application as the expansion of the mine would be speculative due to unknown market conditions and other variables in the future.” I respectfully suggest that there is plenty of legal authority. The scope of mining proposal is certainly not speculative; the company detailed its plans in the proceedings before the county board. Please consider that a public hearing as requested by the Illinois River Coordinating Council and concerned citizens would allow the Office of Mines and Minerals to properly evaluate all proposed mining, its short and long term impacts, and to determine whether a permit may be issued. After all, the Office of Mines and Minerals is not required by the Act to issue a permit. The statutory language (“shall approve”) is directory and not mandatory where the legislature delegates to an agency discretion to be exercised under certain conditions. In other words, Section 5(g) mandates a conservation and reclamation plan prior to issuance of a mining permit and directs approval of such a plan if it complies with the statutory requirements.

I would encourage you to allow a public hearing on the mine proposal; this is admittedly a discretionary matter, but certainly good government. The consultation requirement, however, is mandatory and the Office of Mines and Minerals must comply with the Part 1075 rules.

We’ll see if pressure from the Attorney General’s office can slow down this unhealthy juggernaut. To discuss the issue with me this morning, I welcome Tracy Yang, Clean Water Organizer from the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Steven R. Penn of Penn Rakauski.

Three events that will help the planet…and I’m MC at one of them

#1.- Join me out in lovely Caledonia, Illinois for the 5th Annual Peak Harvest Farm Dinner benefit on Saturday, August 11! The event benefits Angelic Organics Learning Center, which helps urban and rural people build local food systems. They reach more than 4,000 people each year through their programs at partner farms and urban growing sites in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.

The dinner, from 5:00 to 8:00 pm, will be a seasonal 5-course gourmet meal in the beautiful fields of Angelic Organics, 1547 Rockton Road, Caledonia, IL. Dishes will be prepared by some of the region’s most recognized chefs, including:

Marc Bernard of  Big Bowl
Molly Johnson of  Calihan Catering
Christine Cikowski and Joshua Kulp of  Sunday Dinner
Nathan Chappell of  Rushing Waters Fisheries
William Harriman of  Angelic Organics

For folks from Chicago, there will be an exclusive pre-event reception at 2:00 p.m. at  Big Bowl , 60 E. Ohio St., Chicago, and ride a shuttle bus to the farm. Enjoy seasonal appetizers and cocktails, courtesy of Chef Marc Bernard. Purchase your ticket and reserve your seat here.

Sponsors for the event include Whole Foods Market, Urban Partnership Bank
The LeFort Martin Fund of the Chicago Community Trust  All proceeds from this annual fundraiser benefit the educational programs of Angelic Organics Learning Center. For additional information visit or call Corinne at 773-288-5462

Dinner tickets: $150 Bus tickets (from Chicago): $25.

Corinne Henry, Director of Development and Communications at Angelic Organics Learning Center, joins me on the show this morning to talk about the shindig.

#2 – “An Evening at the Garden” is this Thursday, August 9, from 6-8pm at the Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse.

You might remember that they had their wonderful plant sale in May. As a matter of fact, I grabbed some tomatoes, peppers, ground cherries, tomatillos and borage for my community garden Green on McLean at that sale.

Chef Jeff Adamek and Pastry Chef Jennifer Templeton are creating appetizers featuring produce that comes straight out of the Kilbourn Park garden. Here’s some of what they’ll be offering:

Bacon, kale, and tomato on brioche with sweet pepper conserves
Savory flatbreads with:
Tomato, roasted garlic, oregano and pecorino cheese
Roasted peppers, basil pesto, and fresh chevre
Mint Creek lamb, rosemary, feta, and kale
Berry custard filled pate choux with cantaloupe mint salad

But wait, there’s more! There will be live acoustic guitar jazz and a silent auction that includes unique hand crafted items for your garden. The goal is to raise enough money to begin work on the new Nature’s Playground, a natural play space within the garden, and to improve the infrastructure of the greenhouse (which sorely needs it, if I may speak from personal observation).

Tickets are available at Brown Paper Tickets. $40 per person in advance (Kids under 12 are half price) Tickets at the event will be $45/adult; $25/child. Kirsten Akre from Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse drops by today to talk about the event.

#3 – Explore a full weekend of alternative energy and sustainable living at the 11th annual Illinois Renewable Energy & Sustainable Lifestyle Fair at the Ogle County Fairgrounds in Oregon, IL.. It’s sponsored, of course, by the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and it takes place Saturday, August 11th, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and Sunday, August 12th, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Keynote Presenters will be Paul Fenn (Local Power), Fred Kirschenmann (Redesigning the Human Adventure: Challenges & Opportunities) and John Perlin (History of Solar Homes in the Midwest). There are seminars, workshops and booths that will get you moving toward incorporating renewable energy in your everyday life.

And talk about a bargain! Here are the admission prices:

Adults: $5/1 day or $7/2 days
Youth: $3/1day or $5/2 days
Children: (under 12 in the company of a parent) Free
IREA Members: Free

There you are, kids. Go to one or more of these fun, interesting events and help change the world.