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  1. Lt. Governor

Simon wants to keep public spotlight on sand mine 

The Ottawa Times
February 6, 2012
By Derek Barichello

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon is calling for maximum public input in the permit process for the proposed sand mine near Starved Rock State Park.

Mississippi Sand, LLC is expected to file for mining and stormwater drainage permits within the next two weeks from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The Illinois River Coordinating Council, an advisory group with Simon as its chairwoman, passed a resolution Monday to monitor the local, state and federal permitting process and seek public input at each level.

The council, designed to promote the ecological health of the Illinois River, heard from 12 members of the public Monday, including environmentalists, union representatives, Mississippi Sand President Tony Giordano and neighbors of the proposed mine. The council has no regulatory power.

Marc Miller, director of IDNR, and representatives from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency were also present at the meeting.

"I want to get the maximum public participation, whether that's written statements or public hearings," Simon told The Times. "What we did today was significant. Mr. Miller heard the passion from both sides of the issue and witnessed the credentials in the process of public input."

The lieutenant governor requested but failed to get the La Salle County Board to postpone its vote in favor of the mining site. She wanted time for her office to review the transcript from the county's Zoning Board of Appeals on the matter.

"I'm still in the process of looking at it," Simon said. "I want to do what Ican do to preserve our parks in accordance with legal systems we have set in place."

Giordano told The Times on Friday public hearings for permits are not commonplace.

Giordano said Mississippi Sand submitted its request Nov. 2, 2011, for a clean air permit. He said the permit was reviewed, critiqued and then resubmitted for approval with the IEPA on Nov. 16.

The company has yet to submit requests for mining and stormwater drainage permits.

Chris McCloud, IDNR spokesman, said Friday the County Board would have to call for a hearing within 45 days of the permit request for one to be conducted.

The agency has 120 days to decide or 60 days if the La Salle County Board does not request one. McCloud said a requested hearing would be limited to discussions concerning land reclamation.

Tess Wendel, an organizer for the Sierra Club in Illinois, was disappointed with the outcome of Monday's meeting.

"A number of folks on the council were concerned, but a number of them did not know enough about the economic impact to the park," Wendel said. "We're still really grateful for the opportunity, and we're hoping that we emphasized to the IDNR and the IEPA this is important. And it's a unique location."

Wendel said Sierra Club plans to challenge the company's permit requests. Wendel cited the state's Surface-Mined Land Conservation and Reclamation Act (224 ILCS 715/) as a defense to re-examine the issue.

The proposed mine — which will not include any fracking on site, according to Giordano — could bring 39 jobs to the area.

The Times was unable to reach Miller for comment Monday.