Wednesday, December 12, 2012
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Zoning appeals board to send a 'no recommendation' on quarry to county

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[December 12, 2012]  The zoning board of appeals met Monday night to continue the discussion of the potential rezoning of land in Logan County. The land in question, owned by Douglas Muck, could potentially be used as a new quarry for mining limestone. As it stands now, the land is farmland.

A decision as to whether or not the appeals board would recommend the land be rezoned was not reached in November. At that time the public hearing portion of the meetings was closed so the board members could discuss making a recommendation to the Logan County Board.

Muck requested 30 days to write up a contract with Hanson Materials that would assure the opponents that their needs would be met. The appeals board retained the ability to ask Muck, as the applicant, questions concerning clarification on the agreement.

Muck was joined Monday by two engineers from Hanson: Rich Ellis and Eric Brown. Brown is the plant manager of the local operation and the mine in Athens. Ellis is the regional manager of central Illinois operations for Hanson.

Muck was asked by the appeals board to provide an update on the situation. Muck told the board that he and Hanson have come to agree on what should be provided to the neighbors to address their concerns. However, a finalized contract has not yet been signed.

Muck attributed the lack of a signed contract to a conflict with AWEM. AWEM is in charge of the Sugar Creek wind farm that will be coming to Logan County. The two companies may come into conflict due to overlapping power grids. Muck said he has been working with both parties to create a second agreement that would prevent interference between the two companies.

Muck said he was expecting the final contract to be complete within the next 10 to 15 days.

Muck was able to provide a copy of a written document that assured the board that a written agreement will be reached. The document does contain language that would indicate Muck will require any company, Hanson or otherwise, to see to the needs of the neighbors before any mining has begun.

"Mr. Paulus had asked us to require that anybody who, either the mining or us, would mine this property be required to address the water issues responsibly. We have done that as part of the agreement with Hanson," said Muck. Muck also said that Hanson has tentatively accepted language that would indicate said responsibility.

Ellis added that Hanson has drilled wells for neighbors in the past and has hauled water for neighbors when necessary. Ellis also said that these occasions have been very infrequent.

"Whatever it's going to take, we want to be good neighbors, too," said Ellis.

Rick Sheley asked about the presence of berms that would be built to create a more aesthetically pleasing view and possibly block noise and dust. Ellis provided pictures of what those berms would look like, and he added that they would be built before mining began.

Dean Toohey asked the engineers if they would be working with the road commissioners on creating better access to the potential new plant. The engineers said they fully intend to work with any road commissioners necessary to see that roads are taken care of.

Wilbur Paulus read the first line of Muck's document. "Part of the first sentence says, '...will as part of the agreement for mining of applicant's land.' Do we have an agreement?" he asked.

Ellis answered: "There has been no signed agreement."

When asked if Hanson had spoken with any of the opponents, Muck said that he had offered to set Steve Schreiner up in a meeting with Hanson representatives, but nothing came of it.

Schreiner later said that while Muck had called him, the proposed meeting time was set for 5 on Monday evening, leaving only 2 1/2 hours before the board hearing. Schreiner reiterated a statement from Olson at a previous meeting by saying that Hanson cannot answer all of their questions because there is not a set contract.

Schreiner told the board that if this was gone about the right way, Hanson would have sent people to deal with these issues prior to the board meetings. Schreiner also maintained his concern that there may not be proper well water available in the area for drilling a new well if need be.

Todd Turner, attorney for Blaine Olson, also said that he had not been given the chance to speak with Hanson before Monday's hearing.

Paulus believes that this document does not satisfy the need for a written agreement. "I don't believe there is a written agreement that says the company will do this," said Paulus.

Chairman Doug Thompson agreed that the document was not completely what the board asked for, but he did not want to see the decision delayed any further.

"The applicant has given us assurance here that they are going to see that concern is addressed, and the one who operates the mine will take care of it," said Thompson.

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Turner said that he wants to see the neighbors to the quarry listed as third-party beneficiaries. This could ensure that should legal action need to be taken in the future, they will have the legal standing to do so.

As a response, Muck said he believes this to be a case of conditional zoning, which is not viewed in a favorable light by legal systems. Muck also said the assurance he has provided should be enough.

"I've done that as an accommodation to everyone here, even though I've put hundreds of hours into this that I don't think I should have had to have done," said Muck.

Toohey said that while he would like to see more business in the county, he would also like to see more assurance from the applicant in the form of a complete written contract.

Don Ludwig asked the board if the opponents to the application would get a chance to respond, and the request was denied. Ludwig later expressed a concern that "Muck was attempting to reduce all of our concerns down to water, and want us to accept a 'trust me,' or if that doesn't work out, a 'you can sue me,' approach."

The board turned their discussion inward before accepting any motions from the members present.

In the course of the discussion, Thompson noted that the limestone that would come out of a new mine would benefit the county a great deal economically. The alternative would be to continue importing limestone from Athens and other external sources, which costs more money.

Sheley added that another economic benefit would be the 18 jobs a new plant would help the county to retain. Sheley also mentioned that the quality of life for the neighbors would be greatly affected by the quarry's presence.

"There's a great gain for the public and a great detriment to the property owners, and you've got to weigh that," said Paulus.

"We have a great concern for those few who live close by," added Thompson.

Toohey asked the engineers how long it would take to get the operation started. They answered it would take about 14 months.

Ellis also added that he has never had to enter into a written agreement to ensure a "good neighbor policy."

After the discussion, Paulus moved to postpone the decision until the completed agreement was presented to the appeals board. The vote was a tie at 2-2, but without a majority the motion was defeated.

A second vote was taken when Toohey made a motion to make the recommendation to the county board that the land be rezoned. This vote was also tied at 2-2. A vote to not recommend the land be rezoned would have ended the same way.

Due to the lack of a winning vote and the desire to push the issue forward, the zoning board will send a "no recommendation" result to the county board.

"It's a recommendation of no recommendation," said Thompson.

This result, as well as the information the zoning board has received over the last few months, will be presented to the Logan County Board. The county board will make the final decision. This decision would not have necessarily have to coincide with the zoning board's recommendation (had one been made).

"Whatever we say is not the final say-so," said Toohey.

Members of the zoning appeals board present were chairman Doug Thompson, Dean Toohey, Rick Sheley and Wilbur Paulus. Judi Graff was absent. Zoning officer Will D'Andrea was also present.


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