Chesterton Tribune

Sand mine near Starved Rock park moves forward

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OTTAWA, Ill. (AP) — A Missouri company’s plan to operate a sand mine near Starved Rock State Park moved forward Thursday after the LaSalle County Board approved a special-use permit for the project, despite objections from environmentalists and residents who say it could hurt tourism at one of Illinois’ most unique and popular parks.

Mississippi Sand LLC plans to mine sand from a 314-acre site adjacent on the eastern border of the park and sell it to companies in other states for use in hydraulic fracturing, a method of extracting oil and gas from deep underground. Company officials say the mine would create 39 high-paying jobs and pump more than $9 million a year into the local economy.

Sand mining has been an important part of LaSalle County’s economy for more than a century. But opponents say the new mine could hurt one of the county’s most important industries — tourism — by creating noise, vibrations, traffic and dust that could startle wildlife and ruin the outdoor experience for more than 2 million people who visit Starved Rock every year.

Ottawa attorney Paul Martin said he doesn’t oppose sand mining, just one so close to Starved Rock.

Starved Rock “is a national treasure; it is a state of Illinois treasure and it is the economic engine for tourism in LaSalle County ... and we are going to damage that brand,” Martin told board members.

Martin said new jobs will be created by another sand mine that was approved near Utica, and the 39 jobs that would be added by Mississippi Sand’s mine did not compare to what he said are more than 1,200 tourism jobs in LaSalle County.

"Don’t pit residents against each other for jobs,” he said.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources must grant any permits for the mine, but company President Tony Giordano said he hopes to begin excavating by the end of the year. He has promised to try to lessen impacts on the park and traffic.

“Most of our partners have been in the mining business for 20 or 25 years; we know how to do things the right way,” Giordano said.

The board voted 20-6 in favor of the change, rejecting a request from Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon to delay the vote so her office could review the records of last month’s Zoning Board of Appeals meeting. That panel voted unanimously to recommend approval of the zoning variance. Simon, who heads the Illinois River Coordinating Council, said she wanted to address concerns brought to her attention by members of that group.

Don Goerne, vice president of the Starved Rock Audubon Society, said he was disappointed in the vote. “There is a dark cloud over Starved Rock State Park today,” Goerne said.

DNR spokesman Chris McCloud said that agency’s office of mines and minerals would work to resolve any concerns about the mine.



Posted 1/13/2012