The consensus among current Kane County Forest Preserve District commissioners is against any gravel mining in Brunner Forest Preserve in Dundee Township. That stance was publicly stated by multiple commissioners several times, particularly during the past two election cycles.
But the fact that it was even discussed in the first place still leaves a pit in the stomachs of some members of the League of Women Voters of the Elgin Area.
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A two-year study of the issue just released by the league shows the specter of the gravel mine will likely linger until at least one of three things occurs: First, a change in state law, as proposed by State Sen. Mike Noland, could prevent any forest preserve districts from entering the gravel mining business.
Second, the Longmeadow Parkway -- built in parts of Algonquin, Carpentersville, Barrington Hills and unincorporated Kane County -- could be constructed without any use of the known gravel deposits at Brunner, which the bridge would cross.
Third, the forest preserve commission could become a separate entity from the Kane County Board so there are never conflicts of interest involving preservation of nature and development or transportation projects.
Using words like "betrayed" and citing "transparency issues," the league report indicates the discussion of a potential gravel mine raised suspicions early in the process. The league's research indicates mention of a possible gravel mine in district records as early as November 2008. However, the public didn't learn about the potential until January 2010.
"It was not put out for public discussion as an economic or land use question," the report states. "It leaked out. It came out in bits and pieces, with information and misinformation, accusations and denials, and above all, anger. Like a juicy bit of gossip the story spread through the grapevine."
Carol Grom led the study for the league. She said the fact that the Brunner preserve was purchased more than three years ago but still isn't widely used by the public fuels thoughts about a possible gravel pit in the future. The district just recently unveiled a master plan for the preserve, which it is still refining. The plan doesn't include a gravel pit. But it does include space that will be leased by the local park district. Grom isn't happy about that either.
"Part of what came to light in our study is how much of our forest preserve acreage is used for other purposes," Grom said. "The district is supposed to acquire, preserve and restore natural areas. What has athletic fields got to do with that? ... Model airplane clubs, community gardens, railroad museums -- why is any of that in what should be nature preserves? We don't need to turn the forest preserves into Disneyland and profit-making centers."
And preserves certainly shouldn't be used to make transportation projects, like the Longmeadow Parkway, easier to build, according to the league. Its study cites comments made by commissioners about how using gravel in Brunner would be a more cost-effective way to build the Longmeadow Parkway project instead of trucking in gravel for some other place. That type of thinking makes sense for a Kane County Board member looking to save money on a major transportation project, Grom said. But it doesn't make sense for forest preserve commissioner who should be thinking about the local ecosystem above all, she said. But right now, forest preserve commissioners and county board members are the same people in Kane County.
"That's why I would like to see it be two separate boards," Grom said. "We should have commissioners who are actually interested in the environment, in preservation. I've been very frustrated by the lack of responsibility in the forest preserve district. They've been very dishonest in the way this was handled and the way they answered questions."
Forest Preserve District President John Hoscheit said the idea that the district isn't transparent is what bothers him the most about the league's report.
"We've done everything openly, but there's a few individuals who have tried to mischaracterize the facts," Hoscheit said. "Since I've been involved with the forest preserve district I think we've been as open and transparent as any government agency I've seen. We've always done what, in my opinion, the public has wanted."
That includes meeting with Grom and other league members during a forum where Hoscheit was peppered with questions about the gravel mine at Brunner.
"Discussion of the gravel pit is a moot point," Hoscheit said. "The issue is dormant. This continued paranoia about the gravel mining moving forward is just that."
Hoscheit said he doesn't have any problems with Noland's proposed change to state law about gravel mining as long as it doesn't prevent the district from improving or purchasing land where mines already exist or existed in the past. As far as Longmeadow Parkway, Brunner shouldn't even be part of the discussion, Hoscheit said.
"Supporting construction of the parkway by virtue of mining on our property has never been discussed and is not really relevant," Hoscheit said. "The gravel mining discussion was about the benefits of creating a large lake that could be used for active or passive recreation and, from an economic perspective, we could derive revenue from the mining that could be used for that recreational purpose. That discussion was perceived as a potential win-win for the district if we could get a lake and additional money to acquire more preserves. The board has said it's not going to do that. And the reality is we have a number of people in our community who would be happy if we just acquired property and never allowed a human foot to stand on it. But I think we've done a good job at having some very passive recreation and a lot of active recreation."
The report is available on the league's website, www.lwvelginarea.org.