GENEVA – Earlier this year, Aires Consulting of Batavia examined the earth and groundwater at the Cetron property at Hamilton and Richards streets to evaluate it for environmental contamination, records show.
But its final report to the Geneva Public Library is being withheld from public view, as library officials refused to release Aires’ environmental studies or its final report. The library paid more than $21,000 for the environmental studies and a final report, records show.
Library director Matt Teske refused to release the final report and other records that were part of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Kane County Chronicle.
The library had planned on buying the 2.25-acre property as a site for a new building for $2 million, but backed out of the sale last month after the completion of Aires’ environmental assessment.
At the time, board president Esther Steel had said attorneys told officials not to say what the environmental study revealed about what was found on the property.
In a written response in part denying the FOIA request, Teske cited exemptions for preliminary drafts and notes and for trade secrets and commercial or financial information.
The Chronicle filed a request for review from Illinois Attorney General Public Access Counselors.
Esther Seitz, an attorney who represents Illinois media on open meetings and public records issues, said the library district “should not be entering into secret contracts.”
“An agreement that is expending tax dollars is a record that needs to be released,” Seitz said. “There is a specific provision in the Freedom of Information Act that states records relating to funds expended need to be released.”
Seitz said the exemption officials cited for preliminary deliberations do not pertain to a final report that led to a final action of the public body.
“They are trying to protect facts … and that is not what that exemption is designed to do,” Seitz said. “What was found there [on the Cetron property] is not a policy still being deliberated. What was found in there was a fact, and facts are not protected [from release]. Facts should be known and disseminated.”
According to the heavily redacted records, Aires Consulting of Batavia submitted proposals in April and August to do site assessments of the Cetron property.
One level of assessment, according to its proposal, “is an intrusive investigation which collects soil or groundwater samples to investigate environmental concerns uncovered during the completion.”
Another level of assessment involves “examination of physical evidence for potential environmental impairment,” documents show.
As part of the open records request, the library also disclosed that it paid attorneys nearly $38,000 “to date” in legal fees pertaining to the Cetron property.
Teske and attorney Roger Ritzman said they had no comment on the Chronicle’s challenge to the FOIA denial.