BLACKBERRY TOWNSHIP – LafargeHolcim Ltd., a multinational manufacturer of cement, aggregates and concrete, needs one more approval from the county before it receives a special use permit to expand its sand and gravel mining operation in Blackberry Township south of Elburn.
Lafarge’s request to expand its current 651-acre mining operation onto an additional 148 acres of farmland began with the Kane County Zoning Board of Appeals in July with strong opposition from nearby residents, including those in the Windenoak Subdivision and along Timbercrest Road.
Neighbors’ opposition to the expansion was rooted in issues of dust, noise and air pollution, the potential for wells drying up or water contamination, the need for a reclamation plan and work being done well beyond the regulated hours of operation.
Through a process of negotiations facilitated by Kane County Board representative Drew Frasz between a group of residents and local Lafarge representatives, a list of agreements was drafted that addressed, in some form or another, the majority of the residents’ concerns, Frasz said.
Resident representative Jason Shreeram said that none of the residents wanted the mining operation’s expansion.
“But we realize that moneyed interests usually win, and there was nothing we could do to stop it,” he said. “We’re appreciative of Drew and John Fay (Lafarge representative) working with us on these issues. They (Lafarge) did make a lot of concessions. Hopefully they will follow through on everything.”
The one resolution that has already made the biggest difference in neighbors’ lives so far is Lafarge’s adherence to its hours of operation, which are from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and until 7 p.m. for the movement of vehicles. It turned out that the company was operating a second shift, with work being done until midnight or even later.
“They had been operating illegally for seven years,” Shreeram said.
Lafarge has since done away with the second shift.
Resident Bob Raimondi said just that one change has made a big difference in his quality of life. Living about a half mile away from the mine, he said the noise at night had been pretty constant, especially in the last decade.
“The residents have all said the noise level is so much better,” said Shreeram. “That was a big win for the residents in the area.”
According to Frasz, the agreement to monitor the noise and the dust for a two-year period to ensure that the levels are within Environmental Protection Agency standards are two of the most important agreements made by Lafarge.
The addition of the monitoring equipment will ensure a “tangible and scientific” 24-hour written record of the levels, and the company will be required to make the results available to the Kane County Development Department, he said.
If air quality or noise levels are found to be higher than the standards, additional remediation will be required, Shreeram said. He said he would have preferred a longer time frame for the monitoring.
“The residents are going to be here longer than two years,” he explained.
A system of communication between the site managers and the residents has been created, with management in possession of an email list of residents to use for announcements, and phone numbers of the top three local managers available to the residents to address any future issues.
Altogether, Frasz said there was a list of 13 stipulations that Lafarge agreed to, as well as a few additional “handshake” items, such as the implementation of dark sky lighting on site and “white noise” back-up alarms on the equipment that will replace the loud “beeping” noise alarms.
A plan for the remediation of the site once each area has been developed, with Kane County-defined slope stabilization and planting standards. Frasz said there is also a possibility that the Forest Preserve could purchase the site once Lafarge is done with it, which would mean additional remediation and amenities.
He acknowledged that is something he cannot guarantee, but he said that is what he would “ultimately like to see.”
Frasz said the time and effort spent to arrive at these and the other agreements was worth it. What began with 50 or 60 people expressing their concerns, three and one-half months spent in negotiations, five meetings and more than 100 phone calls turned out to be one of the biggest issues he’s been involved with since he’s been on the County Board.
“It was a good group (of resident representatives),” he said. “They were skeptical and asked good questions, but they dealt with the reality of the situation. I think it’s working out well.”
He did say, however, that it has shown him that the county’s zoning petition process is in need of improvements, especially as it is used in rural areas. He said the requirement to notify all neighbors within 250 feet of a zoning change petition is not adequate for areas within the county where the distance between neighbors is larger. He said there were neighbors well outside the 250-foot range that would be affected by these proposed changes.
The final stage of the approval process is for the petition to come before the entire County Board at its next regularly-scheduled meeting on Nov. 12 at 9:45 a.m. at the Kane County Government Center in Geneva.