Quarry near Superfund sites?

Quarry near Superfund sites?

By Jeanette Vanderbosch

By Jeanette Vanderbosch

Staff Writer

The moon was a golden yellow and nearly full as the corn was picked directly behind Sandy Brinker’s yard on Friday night. “Look at that,” she said. “he’s been out there since morning getting that corn picked.” Her neighborhood, on Rotary Road, is about a mile away from the village of New Milford, and the air is entirely silent except for the sounds of a few last crickets and the farm machinery.

Soon, though, if the Winnebago County Zoning Committee vote stands, the cornfield behind Brinker’s home will be turned into a limestone quarry by Quality Aggregates, LLC, a subsidiary of Sjostrom Construction. Less than 50 feet from the door of Sandy and her husband Bill, the quarry site would be constantly busy.

This isn’t the first time that the Brinkers (as well as the neighbors in the 56 homes within half a mile from the proposed construction site) have had to face the possibility of a quarry being built virtually in their backyards. Quality Aggregates has attempted to gain a special use permit to construct the quarry three times before—once in 1994, once in 1996 and again in 1998.

In both 1994 and 1996, the county board denied the special use permit. In 1998, Quality Aggregates went to court to contest the board’s decision. Circuit Judge Ronald Pirrello upheld the county board’s decision, saying that there would be “no…gain to the public from making the property into a quarry.” He further stated that there was “no evidence that the community needed another quarry, only that [Quality Aggregates] did.”

When the company requested a special use permit this year, though, they were determined to go further. So far, many of the residents near the proposed quarry say that

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the county appears to be “fast-tracking” the permit, letting it pass without having to abide by the usual guidelines.

The permit went to the Zoning Board of Appeals on Oct. 17, and the members voted 3-2 to recommend denial of the permit. However, five votes are required to make a recommendation, and since two of the seven ZBA members were not present, no recommendation was made.

Roger Arnold, another resident of the Rotary Road neighborhood affected by the quarry, wrote in a letter that the ZBA hearing was “a positive for county government,” saying that “the ZBA members were extremely interested in the details, very patient in their listening and astute in their questions.” He, along with many of his neighbors, was very surprised at what happened next, at the meeting of the Zoning Committee.

At the meeting, Zoning Committee members seemed to be more interested in money than proper zoning. “The Zoning Committee equated the quarry with economic development, and that has nothing to do with proper zoning,” said Arnold.

Even more outrageous to the residents was the manner in which the committee members conducted themselves. Many expressed dismay over the manner in which Joseph McGraw, the head of the committee, answered questions. “McGraw was so condescending toward us that it was embarrassing,” said Sandy Brinker. They noted that none of the committee members was condescending toward Tuneberg and Quality Aggregates—in fact, much the opposite.

Instead of asking the company questions about possible problems in zoning, area residents complained, the committee members often just asked them to expand on the positives. In the end, the vote of the Zoning Committee was 4-1 to recommend granting the special use permit. Only Pearl Hawks voted to recommend denial.

Now, the residents of the affected neighborhood are worried about whether their area will ever be calm and quiet again. More than that, though, they worry about possible safety problems. Very near to the proposed quarry site are the Pagel’s Pit Landfill and Acme Solvents Superfund sites. A public health assessment of Pagel’s Pit stated that the site posed no significant threat to public health as long as the groundwater flow maintained its current patterns. Now, with the quarry, though, those patterns will change drastically.

If the quarry is built, water will need to be pumped out of it—3 to 6 million gallons of water per day. A study by Jason Price, a hydrogeochemist and environmental consultant, states that dewatering could “cause contaminants from these two Superfund sites to migrate northeastward towards, and into, private residential potable water wells.” The removal of water, the report continues, would also make some of the shallower wells in the area go dry.

Even more troubling to some is the proximity of the quarry site to Skyview School, a special education school for District 205. It, too, has a well that could easily be affected by dewatering in the quarry.

The final step in granting the special use permit for the quarry is a vote of the full Winnebago County Board. Normally, the board delays a decision about special use permits for two weeks, in order to have a better grasp of the issues involved in granting the permit. However, the residents affected by the quarry are worried that the board may vote to suspend the rules in order to grant the permit sooner.

The meeting, set to be held on Thursday, Nov. 8, will be attended by many of the affected residents. Though the Zoning Committee is set to recommend granting the proposal, the residents say they’ll continue to fight. Said Roger Arnold, “What was wrong in 1994 is wrong now, what was wrong in 1996 is wrong now, and what Judge Pirrello said was wrong in 1998 is wrong now.”

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