Rockford Blacktop: Asphalt plant would save tax dollars

Neighbors of proposed Mulford Quarry location express concerns

Neighbors of a proposed asphalt batch plant hosted an informational meeting Oct. 11 to have their questions and concerns addressed by representatives from Rockford Blacktop Construction, as well as city and county leaders. Hundreds attended the neighborhood meeting at The Rock Church, 6732 Harrison Ave.

Rockford Blacktop is requesting a special-use permit (SUP) to allow an asphalt plant on the floor of its Mulford Quarry. The company plans to move 70 percent of its current asphalt production from the 300-foot-deep Nimtz Quarry to the Mulford location.

The Nimtz operation has been producing asphalt since 1985, and Rockford Blacktop officials say the quarry is simply running out of stone.

William Charles, the parent company of Rockford Blacktop, purchased the Mulford Quarry in the 1970s, according to their attorney Tim Jagielski, where it already operates a concrete batch plant. The quarry was annexed by the city in 1996. The proposed plant will be situated within 1,000 feet of residences, hence the SUP requirement to move forward with the plant.

Neighbor Alec Kaplanes accused Rockford Blacktop of not honoring the promises it made as part of the annexation agreement.

“You were supposed to have berms all around the Mulford entrance. You were supposed to have blacktop in on that Mulford entrance. You were supposed to have done a good landscaping plan all around all of the berms. None of that was done,” Kaplanes charged. “If you haven’t satisfied the things from 1996, why should everybody here listen and agree to what you have written down here?”

Jagielski responded by listing a number of improvements the company did make, including a bike path, fencing, berms and landscaping.

According to Troy Kutz, vice president of Rockford Sand and Gravel, the Nimtz facility manufactures up to 500,000 tons of asphalt per year, resulting in about 20,000 truckloads.

If the company were to move 70 percent of its 500,000-ton asphalt production to Mulford, neighbors could expect about 80 trucks per day during the seven-month asphalt season.

Truck traffic was among the concerns of residents, but Jagielski argued moving asphalt operations to Mulford would result in less traffic overall. The company, which is frequently awarded public projects, will spend less on fuel, “Which hopefully, then, results in lower taxes,” Jagielski said.

If the SUP is not approved, Kutz said, truck traffic would be increased, because raw materials would have to be mined from the Mulford Quarry, and then transported to the Nimtz plant. Many in attendance perceived the statement as a veiled threat.

Residents also voiced concerns about the scent of asphalt, but Rockford Blacktop representatives say most emissions would be contained, minimizing odor. Neighbors, however, are concerned about more than just the smell. Because of other emissions, one woman who suffers from respiratory problems asked if she’d have to move. Despite having asked the question several times, the best response she received from Kutz was, “I don’t believe that you will smell the asphalt plant from your house.”

Resident Phyllis Jones noted odorless emissions do not necessarily equate safe emissions.

Because of improved technology, Jagielski retorted, asphalt plants were removed from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) list of Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) sources in 2002. Referencing the company’s employees who work in close proximity to the material, Jagielski reported that in 60 years of his company’s asphalt work, there has never been a worker’s compensation claim for cancer-related illness related to fumes.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH): “People who work in asphalt plants would have the greatest exposure to asphalt fumes. Some of the symptoms reported by workers include irritation of the upper respiratory tract, headache, fatigue, wheezing, shortness of breath, dizziness, and nausea. These symptoms are from short-term exposure to high levels of asphalt fumes and are typically mild and rapidly reversible once exposure ends. Asphalt fumes contain several chemicals that may cause cancer. Asphalt workers have the greatest long-term exposure to these fumes, yet studies of cancer in asphalt workers are not conclusive.

“Residents living near an asphalt plant would be more likely to breathe low levels of asphalt fumes for a long period of time. In a residential setting, exposure to asphalt fumes would depend on the plant emissions and the prevailing winds. Based on sampling conducted near asphalt plants in other states, residents could experience irritation from the odors from asphalt production, but the potential for adverse health effects is expected to be very low. Young children receive greater exposures on a body weight basis and may be more sensitive than adults to certain chemicals. No studies have been identified that link residential exposure to asphalt fumes with the development of cancer.”

According to the U.S. EPA: “Asphalt processing and asphalt roofing manufacturing facilities are major sources of hazardous air pollutants such as formaldehyde, hexane, phenol, polycyclic organic matter, and toluene. Exposure to these air toxics may cause cancer, central nervous system problems, liver damage, respiratory problems and skin irritation.”

Jagielski was quick to point out the batch plant would not produce roofing asphalt, which is produced at a much higher temperature. The asphalt to be manufactured in the Mulford Quarry requires only 300-350 degrees.

Kutz explained the process of producing asphalt begins with loading rocks into a drier, which cooks all the moisture from the stone. He acknowledged the process creates a lot of dust, but that the particulate debris is vacuumed from the drier into the “bag house,” where it is collected to be used later as a component of the hot mix.

A collective gasp could be heard in the audience when Kutz stated additional blasting would be required for raw materials. Annie Taylor, who lives near the Mulford Quarry, said she can already smell blasting caps and that dust blankets her car as a result. Kutz responded by saying he doesn’t live near a quarry, but that his car gets dusty, too. Taylor was not satisfied by his answer.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) monitors blasting with a seismograph on site.

The EPA keeps an eye on air and water quality in the vicinity of asphalt plants, Kutz noted. An independent firm, hired by Rockford Blacktop, sends test results directly to the EPA, which occasionally monitors the testing. Many argue this “honor system” approach to environmental responsibility is inadequate.

The effect on property values was another subject of anxiety during the meeting.

“One of the things that appears to be very important,” Jagielski responded, “is what can be seen.”

The proposed plant would stand about 80 feet high and would not be visible from Mulford Road, officials say. The Mulford Quarry is around 100 feet deep.

Jagielski indicated homes have had no trouble on the market in the vicinity of the Nimtz operation, and that property values have actually gone up. One Realtor in attendance, however, argued such a plant would have to be disclosed to potential buyers, resulting in a lower sale price.

A 2002 study released by the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) found the presence of an asphalt plant resulted in the reduction of nearby property values by up to 56 percent. Another BREDL survey concluded 45 percent of residents within one half-mile of an asphalt plant reported declines in health since the opening of the facility. Ailments reported include high blood pressure, sinus problems, headaches and shortness of breath.

Ald. Dan Conness (D-14), whose ward is home to the Mulford Quarry, explained his first response to the proposal was, “No way.”

Conness said he’d envisioned a towering piece of noisy machinery belching filth into the air. After visiting the Nimtz asphalt plant, however, Conness was more open to the plan.

“To m

y surprise, it wasn’t what I had pictured,” Conness reported. “There are certainly some questions, but it was not the big, big structure that puffs smoke out and makes a lot of noise.”

Rather than representing the obvious concerns of hundreds of constituents in attendance, Conness seemed to try selling them on the idea.

“They’re [Rockford Blacktop] going to purchase a new, state-of-the-art facility that will be even quieter, smaller, better,” promised Conness, whose campaigns have been funded primarily by labor groups.

Conness suggested residents also tour the Nimtz facility before making up their minds. Rockford Blacktop is said to be considering the public tours.

District 10 Winnebago County Board Republicans John Ekberg and Bob Kinnison were also in attendance.

Ekberg didn’t offer an opinion either way on the proposed plant, but said it would make sense for Rockford Blacktop to run a good operation. Ekberg expressed a desire to ensure citizens are heard regarding the issue.

Kinnison urged opponents to contact him regarding their concerns. In an e-mail to organizers of the Oct. 11 meeting, Kinnison stated: “Although this is a city issue, as promised, I’d be more than happy to pen a letter to your alderman supporting everyone’s position on this matter. At first blush, I have concerns about the increased traffic, noise and potential odors that such a plant would generate.”

Kinnison’s e-mail also noted, “I’m currently up for re-election and will bring my petitions for anyone interested in signing it for me (who currently lives in District 10).”

With Conness seeming to favor the asphalt plant, the weight of Kinnison’s letter is in question.

Rockford Blacktop appears to be banking on approval of the requested SUP. Kutz reported the company does not have a Plan B.

The Zoning Board of Appeals was originally to consider the petition at its Oct. 16 meeting. At the request of Todd Cagnoni, the city’s manager of current planning, Rockford Blacktop agreed to delay the matter until the Nov. 20 meeting. Cagnoni requested the lay over to allow time for further discussion and study.

The public will have an opportunity to be heard at that meeting before the ZBA makes its recommendation. The issue will then move on to the city’s Codes and Regulations Committee, and thence to the city council. Neither of the latter bodies will be taking public input on the issue.

If the ZBA recommends approval, a simple majority vote of the city council would be required. If the ZBA recommends denying the petition, only a supermajority of 10 votes by aldermen can give the go-ahead for granting the permit. The matter could be read in at city council as early as Dec. 10.

Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) said he plans to listen to both sides in the debate.

“I think the process is going to continue to work its way out through the hearings,” Morrissey told The Rock River Times Oct. 15. “We’ll continue to watch and listen.”

from the Oct. 17-23, 2007, issue

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