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For the second time in two years, Utica officials were asked to approve a new sand mine. And for the second time, the issue drew a contentious hearing and couldn’t be settled in one night.
A standing-room-only crowd at Grand Bear Lodge — Utica officials correctly anticipated the need for an extra-large venue — turned out Wednesday mostly to oppose a series of petitions by Aramoni LLC, an Oak Brook firm that hopes to quarry industrial sands from property located north of Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores.
But as was the case in 2012, when the village approved hotly-contested petitions by Illinois Sand (now Northern White Sands), the joint hearing of the Utica Planning Commission and Village Board was forced into overtime by a long and as yet unfinished line of concerned residents uniformly opposed to more quarrying.
Village officials finally called it a night after about four hours of testimony and will resume live testimony at 6 p.m. today.
At issue are variances needed for Aramoni to launch a quarry on part of 500 acres located on either side of East Eighth Road north of where Route 178 terminates. Once operational, the quarry would be operated around the clock and create about 35 full-time, mostly union jobs plus ancillary jobs.
Aramoni has also pledged the village an extraction fee of 15 cents per ton (increased annually by 2 percent) plus a $100,000 impact fee to defray expenses incurred by the village. Additionally, Aramoni would see to road maintenance and extend agreements to protect nearby wells.
Aramoni partner Stephen Schuster told Utica officials he and his partners had hoped to use their various holdings in the Utica area for commercial development — until market conditions turned south in 2008. Then, a geological study of some parcels revealed quality silica sand with commercial potential and a quarry lifespan of up to 25 years.
The quarry could eventually yield 800,000 tons of finished sand per year, with a direct impact on Utica. On the plus side: Extraction fees of $120,000 a year. On the down side: 146 truck loads per day — most headed to U.S. 6 or Interstate 80 — plus blasting every seven to 10 days during weekdays and daylight hours.
“In summary, there’s 10.4 percent unemployment in La Salle County, there are hundreds of unemployed union workers in La Salle County,” Schuster said, making his case for village approval. “We acknowledge and understand people’s hesitation about another mine in the area…but we are good stewards of farm ground and good neighbors.”
Schuster’s opening remarks drew pointed questions from village officials.
Planning commissioner Willis Fry complained Aramoni didn’t supply the village with needed materials until Nov. 4 — with revisions disclosed hours before Wednesday’s hearing — which precluded a detailed evaluation of Aramoni’s proposal. In response, Schuster explained that Aramoni postponed its filings in deference to the village when then-mayor Fred Esmond was battling terminal cancer.
Commissioner Gene Drzewiecki asked why “good land” had to be used and why Aramoni couldn’t mine another spot. The answer: Other Aramoni sites don’t have quality silica.
Trustee Matt Jereb expressed skepticism about the scope of the project, asking, “What’s going to stop you from purchasing additional property (and then) create a nuisance later?” Schuster pointed out the village could block future annexation.
Things grew more heated when Schuster had to field questions from members of the public who clearly want no part of another sand mine in Utica.
Neighboring property owner Rick Coleman demanded to know if Aramoni was willing to implement safeguards including a berm.
“I’d like to sit down and talk with you,” Schuster replied. “I don’t want to stand here and negotiate.”
Monty Whipple, president of the La Salle County Farm Bureau, asked Schuster if he and his partners, when they bought the property in question, gave any hint they might turn the land into a sand mine.
“No,” Schuster admitted.
No votes were taken Wednesday but signs are emerging that village might take a harder stance than they took against Illinois Sand two years ago.
Schuster suggested that new mayor Gloria Alvarado played hardball during preliminary negotiations with Aramoni. Three trustees had voted on Illinois Sand (two for, one against) in 2012; but the board has three new trustees who represent swing votes.
Posted: Thursday, November 21, 2013
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Millions of people around the world are watching the choices made by communities such as ours. Faced with the opportunity to provide nourishment to millions from good farmland, or the destruction of it, with pollution instead of food, many across the globe would choose life, and be in gratitude for the gifts we are freely given. We are blessed with fertile land, available water, and many people willing to grow healthy food for all--now, 5, 10, 15, 30 years from now. Our wealth is our land, our animals, our plants, and our people. When a few pieces of silver challenge that result, which will we choose?
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