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This is an aerial view of the future Aramoni, LLC sand mine site now with the rich soil of Waltham Township. Township leaders have placed a non-binding referendum Tuesday’s ballot asking residents if they want more sand mine development, hoping they vote no so that they can begin taking steps to stop future mining.
Waltham Township may be the final battleground for area residents wishing to stop the rapid expansion of silica sand mining in La Salle County.
Most of the township land surrounding the Illinois River between Ottawa and Utica has been either marked for new mining development, is currently being mined, or was mined decades ago. Now miners are looking further north into Waltham Township where most of the land remains in the hands of private farmers.
But given the value of the sandstone hundreds of feet beneath their properties it seems only a matter of time before more land is annexed into neighboring municipalities for the purpose of digging for La Salle County’s white gold.
On March 18, Waltham Township voters will be asked in an advisory referendum whether sand mining should be allowed within the township’s borders. Regardless of the outcome, the question is only advisory meaning it won’t change a thing. And only Waltham Township residents may vote on the question. However, it will serve as the first official gauge on how some La Salle County residents think about local mining.
During the last election in April, only 113 of 323 Waltham Township residents voted. Additionally, the outcome will give clear direction to Waltham Township officials as to whether they can successfully pass a binding referendum in November that might give them some control over future annexation and mining agreements.
“We’re tired of being walked on — maybe we can do something to slow down mining in the future,” said Waltham Township supervisor Bill Stack.
Stack hopes voters cast “no” votes on the referendum. If so, township leaders will begin looking at a way to pass a binding referendum in November that might, at the very least, give township officials a voice at annexation bargaining tables.
The frustration stems from the manner in which Aramoni, LLC and Utica Village board members agreed upon an annexation agreement that would allow the company to begin mining its property in southwestern Waltham Township.
In the agreement, a Waltham Township property owner sold his farmland to Aramoni, which then acquired an annexation agreement to become a part of the village of Utica for the purpose of building a massive silica sand mine.
An annexation agreement is a legal agreement that allows a property owner to have his or her property come under the jurisdiction of a new taxing body. In this case, the property was under the jurisdiction of Waltham Township but the village of Utica agreed to annex the property, putting it in city limits.
Stack said the problem with annexation is that state law doesn’t allow local townships any voice. As a result, an unwanted use of the property can result and the township has no legal right to protect the interests of neighboring property owners.
“Township rights are being infringed upon by cities annexing in,” he said. “We decided that maybe if we put it on the ballot we can have some authority.”
La Salle County Farm Bureau president and Waltham Township resident Monty Whipple said he and other residents aren’t opposed to annexation when the development can coincide with traditional agricultural practices.
Whipple said retail or commercial development that piggybacks local tourism would be acceptable reasons for the city of La Salle and village of Utica to annex Waltham Township land. But when it comes to sand mining, once the crater is dug the excellent farming soil that has lasted for hundreds of years can never be reclaimed, he said.
“Waltham has always prided itself as an ag community, not that we’re opposed to other business ventures,” he said. “Once that mine is used up they’ll want to expand. And as it’s going now, we’re losing our say-so.”